Tualatin battles, but falls barely short
EUGENE — Big game.
Late innings. Down two runs.
The Tualatin High School softball team had been in that situation before. In fact, the Timberwolves seemed to thrive when under such pressure.
They came back from two runs down to win the 2018 Class 6A state championship game. Heck, they rallied from a two-run, seventh-inning deficit to get a 10-7 state playoff semifinal win at Grants Pass just four days earlier.
So, in Saturday's Class 6A title game with Sheldon, when it was down 5-3 going into the seventh inning, Tualatin was ready to try and make the improbable reality once again.
The Wolves battled their best, pushing one run across the plate, while putting runners on the corners with two outs. But, this time, maybe it just wasn't meant to be.
Tualatin saw its late, spirited rally come up just short, as it fell 5-4 to the Irish in the state championship contest, played at the University of Oregon's Jane Sanders Stadium.
"We all knew we could do it, and that we had it in us, but hats off to Sheldon, they had a great season and they proved it," said Tualatin senior Emily Johansen, who belted a first-inning home run in the game. "It was just so much like last year's game. Last year, we came out on top and this year we didn't. But that's what happens."
"We really fought," Tualatin junior shortstop Bella Valdes said. "It wasn't one big play, it was all the little things. And they're a great team. They did really well. It's a devastating loss, but it was two great teams battling it out."
"I'm just really proud of this team for making it this far, and putting up a fight," Tualatin junior pitcher Tia Ridings said. "In the seventh inning, we weren't done. Both teams played really hard. That's what you want in a championship game."
With the win, Sheldon, who shared the Southwest Conference title and was the No. 3 team in the final OSAA power rankings, finished the season with final record of 25-6, in addition to winning its first-ever state championship.
Tualatin, the Three Rivers League champion and the No. 4 team in the power rankings, finished its season at 25-6.
"Oh my gosh, it was an amazing season. I'm so proud of us for getting here. I can't even believe it, honestly," Tualatin junior outfielder Sydney Wagner said. "It's been a hard season, but we all finally came together, and we worked really hard for this. And, even though we took second, I'm so proud of this team for getting here and showing up."
"This season was very up and down, but I feel that, throughout the entire season, we never lost sight of our end goal," Ridings said. "I feel like a lot of people didn't think that we'd get here, but we did — we did."
"It was amazing to get this far," Valdes said. "Even though it wasn't the ending we wanted, it still was a ton of fun. We wouldn't have had it any other way."
Tualatin, looking to bring the energy early, got off to a fast start to Saturday's title contest.
Ridings, leading off the top of the first inning, ripped a sharp single to center field. She then moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by senior Andrea Gomez. Johansen then blasted a home run to right-center field, giving the Wolves a quick 2-0 lead.
"We knew we had to come out early, with some energy, and scoring runs in the first inning was key, so that was my goal," Johansen said. "That one felt pretty good, leaving the yard."
Sheldon got a run back in the bottom of the first. Irish junior Rylee Valentine hit a one-out triple to right-center field, and then scored on junior Kelsi Sorensen's bloop single to left, cutting the Tualatin lead to 2-1.
It didn't take the Wolves long to strike back. Wagner, leading off the top of the second, singled to left field. Then, following a pair of fielder's choice grounders that led to outs, Valdes drew a walk, moving senior Lily Marshall to second base. Ridings then ripped another single to center field, driving in Marshall, upping the Tualatin lead to 3-1.
From there, Ridings and Sheldon junior Camille Leach locked up in a pitchers' duel, with neither team being able to score again until the bottom of the sixth inning. But that's where the Irish bats came alive.
Sheldon junior Jordan Henderson led off the frame with an infield single. One out later, senior Olivia Schmidt and freshman Ella Swangard had back-to-back singles, with Henderson scoring on Swangard's hit.
One out later Sheldon freshman Tori Leyba drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch, loading the bases. Senior Emma Neuman, the Southwest Conference Co-Player of the Year, then hit a three-run double to right-center field, giving the Irish a 5-3 lead going into the seventh inning.
But the Wolves weren't about to give up.
"I was really hoping," Wagner said. "I was like, 'we have to get these outs, and then we have to go score.' I was like, 'oh my gosh, we can do this.' We have the ability to do this, we did it in Grants Pass. I was hoping we'd get it all together and do it again."
Leach coaxed a groundout to lead off the inning, but Valdes then drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch.
"I was coming up second, and I knew that I had to get on," Valdes said. "That was my job, so I did everything I could, and I knew my team would back me up."
Ridings then continued her hot day at the plate, lacing a double to right-center field, driving in Valdes to make the score 5-4.
Ridings then moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Gomez. Sheldon then intentionally walked Johansen, putting runners on first and third with two outs. Tualatin freshman Leanna Rosenbaum then hit an opposite-field looper to right field. It looked like the ball had a chance to drop in, but Schmidt, playing in right field for the Irish, came running in to make the catch, ending the game and giving Sheldon its first state title.
"I wanted it really bad," Ridings said. "We all did, and we all worked really hard for it. Sheldon is a great team, and they played an amazing game."
"I'm very proud of (Sheldon), too," Wagner said. "I know they were probably down after we had the lead, so I'm proud of them for battling, and proud of us for battling. I guess it can't go our way all the time."
Ridings pitching the distance for the Wolves, gave up five runs on nine hits, while striking out three and walking two. She also went 3 for 4 at the plate with a double, a run scored and two RBIs.
"I was really determined," Ridings said. "I wanted it for all of us, but I really wanted it for our seniors. I've played with them since I was 8-years-old, and it was my last game with them, so I definitely wanted to end it with a bang."
Johansen had a home run and two RBIs. Rosenbaum had a third-inning double. Wagner and freshman Ella Hoyle had one hit apiece.
"We had to come out after winning the state championship and deal with having a whole new team. We lost four starters, and five seniors, and it's tough to deal with something like that, and this team really showed what it had," Johansen said. "We had to deal with a lot of adversity. It's hard to beat what we did last year, but this team proved what it had."
"It definitely was a challenge," Ridings said. "I feel that what held us together was our love for each other, and for the game. Just coming together and playing the sport that we all love, and doing what we love to do, and fighting no matter what."
"It was a tough transition after losing all of our seniors, because they were all role models, but we took all of the good things that they had, and brought them to this season," Valdes said. "We really tried to help the new girls, and I think it turned out to be really fun."
For Sheldon, Henderson went 3 for 3 at the plate with a run scored. Sorensen went 2 for 3 with an RBI. Leach gave up four runs on seven hits, while striking out four and walking three.
Other members of the Tualatin team include junior Savannah Braun, junior Kaylee Mo, junior Nicole Webb, sophomore Taylor Corcoran and freshman Camille Schmitz. Jenna Wilson is the Wolves' head coach, with assistants Bill Wilson and Mike Jodoin.