Tualatin is looking to make it two in a row
It certainly hasn't been an easy path to follow.
There's been a lot of adversity. There was a long, historic winning streak that came to an end. There even was a daunting, last-inning deficit against the No. 1 seed.
But, so far, the Tualatin High School softball team hasn't let anything stand in its way.
Now, the Timberwolves face one more obstacle it needs to overcome in order to claim championship glory again.
Tualatin will play for its second-straight state title on Saturday, when it faces Sheldon in the Class 6A state championship game, set to start at 11 a.m. at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene.
"It's amazing to think we could do this two years in a row," Tualatin senior Lily Marshall said following the Wolves' dramatic 10-7 come-from-behind win over top-seeded Grants Pass in a state playoff semifinal game played Tuesday at Grants Pass High School. "Everyone is pretty excited."
"This means everything to us," Tualatin junior pitcher Tia Ridings said after the victory at Grants Pass. "This has given us so much confidence, that no matter what, with what we've gone through, that we still can, and we will."
Tualatin has certainly gone through a lot since going 30-0 on its way to winning the 2018 Class 6A state title.
The Wolves built their winning streak to 45 games (thought to be a state record), but saw that streak end with a 3-1 loss to rival Tigard. The setback started what could be called a bit of a slump for Tualatin, which lost five games in a 10-game span (including another setback to the Tigers).
There have been injuries. Timberwolf sophomore Taylor Corcoran, who had the walk-off hit in last year's 4-3, eight-inning win over Clackamas in the state championship game, hasn't played all season since suffering a preseason injury. Junior starting shortstop Bella Valdes suffered an injury late in the season, which kept her out of full-time action (she served as a pinch-runner with a partial cast on her left arm), until the semifinal win at Grants Pass, where she played in left field.
In Valdes' absence, Tualatin senior Emily Johansen — left-handed Emily Johansen — moved from first base to shortstop.
But, despite all the adversity, the Timberwolves have been on an absolute roll in the postseason. They opened the Class 6A state playoffs with consecutive shutout wins over Madison, Franklin and Clackamas. They then faced quite the obstacle during Tuesday's semifinal game at Grants Pass. Tualatin trailed the Lady Cavers 6-3 after five inning, and faced a 6-4 deficit going into the seventh inning before rallying for the 10-7 victory.
"The playoffs are our season," said Tualatin junior Savannah Braun, who hit a go-ahead grand slam home run in the seventh inning of the game at Grants Pass. "That's what we work for."
And, with that in mind, Tualatin knows what it has to do in Saturday's championship game.
"We just have to bring the energy and be ready to fight every inning," Johansen said.
"We just need to keep winning the innings," Braun said. "That's been our goal all through the playoffs."
"We have to hit the ball," Ridings said. "Today (Tuesday at Grants Pass) was an amazing showing of hitting, and that's what we need to do. I think that kind of confidence we got today will be what gets us off to a good start."
Sheldon, which shared the Southwest Conference title with Grants Pass, and also is the No. 3 team in the final OSAA power rankings, is 24-6 on the season.
The Irish is led by senior catcher Emma Neuman, who shared Southwest Conference Player of the Year honors, and junior Camille Leach, who shared Southwest Conference Pitcher of the Year accolades.
Other first-team all-conference picks for Sheldon include junior infielder Rylee Valentine, junior infielder Jordan Henderson, senior outfielder Anna Boyd and senior utility Olivia Schmidt. Second-team all-conference picks for Sheldon include junior infielder Kelsi Sorensen and senior outfielder Haley Sams.
Tualatin, the Three Rivers League champion, and the No. 4 team in the OSAA power rankings, is 25-5 on the season. The Wolves are also trying to become the first team since North Medford in 2012 and 2013, to win back-to-back state championships.
Johansen was named the Three Rivers League Player of the Year, and Ridings was tabbed the Three Rivers League Pitcher of the Year.
Other Wolves named to the All-TRL first team include senior second baseman Andrea Gomez and junior outfielder Sydney Wagner.
Honorable mention all-league picks include freshman catcher Leanna Rosenbaum, freshman third baseman Ella Hoyle and Braun in the outfield.
The Jane Sanders Stadium is a new venue for the state championship game, and that's just fine for at least one Tualatin player.
"I'm really, really excited," Marshall said. "And I'm a Ducks fan, so it's going to be really cool to play on their field. It's a great ending for my senior year, to make it there again."
General admission ticket prices for the Class 6A state championship game are $8 for adults and $5 for students.