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Bucks can clinch state playoff berth with sweep of winless Portland Christian this week

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul senior Sadie Smith set a program record with six RBIs in the Buckaroos 15-4 win over Neah-Kah-Nie on April 30. Smith and teammate Rachel Vela combined to hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning. The St. Paul softball team's rollercoaster season took a sharp turn toward the playoffs last week after the Buckaroos took care of business in their three-game series against the Neah-Kah-Nie Pirates.

The Bucks (14-9, 10-8 Special District 1) recovered from a four-game streak of losses to sweep the Pirates (7-15, 7-11), vaulting the team to the lead in a three-game fight for the final two state playoff berths awarded to the conference.

St. Paul claimed victory over Neah-Kah-Nie in a 15-4 home victory on April 30 before traveling to Rockaway Beach to hand the Pirates losses of 11-5 and 20-6, respectively in a double-header on Friday.

It was as complete of victories as the Buckaroos have seen this season considering the opponent and the stakes. St. Paul entered the week on the outside of the state playoff pictures following four consecutive losses at the hands of the Knappa Loggers (16-7, 12-6) and the Nestucca Bobcats (9-13, 8-10).

Anything less than three wins over the Pirates would put the Bucks in a three-way tie or worse with Perrydale (11-9, 9-9) and Gaston (11-12, 9-9) for the third place in the conference standings.

St. Paul got the message loud and clear, opening the series against Neah-Kah-Nie with five runs in the second inning before thundering past the Pirates with a 10-run fourth inning that included back-to-back inside-the-park home runs from seniors Sadie Smith and Rachel Vela.

The pair finished the game with impressive stat lines. Smith went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, falling a double shy of hitting for the cycle. She drove in six runs, setting a single-game record for runs batted in by a St. Paul player since the Bucks restarted their softball program four seasons ago.

Smith's home run was the third of the season and the sixth of her career, both program bests since the inaugural 2015 season.

Vela was 3-for-3 in the game with three runs scored and four RBIs, while giving up just six hits and three earned runs in five innings on the pitcher's mound.

Smith's hot hitting continued in the trip to the coast on Friday, going 3-for-3 with a double, four RBIs and three runs scored as the Bucks racked up 14 hits against the Pirates. Vela once again pitched a solid game, going seven innings while giving up five hits and five runs, none of which were earned.

The second half of the double-header was a team-effort on offense, with five players recording multiple hits and all nine members of the lineup plating at least one run. Vela took care of business on the mound, pitching five innings and giving up seven hits and four earned runs.

St. Paul will conclude its regular season this week against Portland Christian (0-19, 0-18), needing a sweep over the Royals to clinch a state playoff berth.

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