The St. Paul softball team is going to the big dance.
After finishing the regular season in third place in the Special District 1 standings, the Buckaroos (18-9, 13-8 SD1) made short work of the Gaston Greyhounds (14-14, 11-10) in the league playoffs on Wednesday at Pacific University, winning 18-4 in five innings to punch their ticket to the state playoff tournament for the first time in program history.
The victory extended St. Paul's season-best win streak to seven games and gave the team some much-savored payback over a Gaston team that took two of three games from the Bucks in the regular season.
Much like in St. Paul's previous six wins, the Bucks were quick to take advantage of opportunities on offense, jumping out to an 18-1 lead after the first three innings of play.
Leadoff hitter Sadie Smith got the ball rolling to open the bottom of the first frame, reaching base on one of three at-bats in which she was hit by a Gaston pitcher.
Smith stole second and scored on back-to-back wild pitches before Rachel Vela drilled a ground ball to centerfield to reach base on a single. Another single by Megan Tuck and a walk by Destiny Smith loaded the bags, allowing Vela to score when teammate Karlee Southerland was beaned by Gaston's Olivia Belle-Isle two batters later.
Haylee Farrell followed with a double to right field, bringing in Tuck and Smith to make it a 4-0 game. St. Paul added a fifth run when Taysha Veeman and Alex Tegland drew back-to-back walks, bringing the top of the lineup back up to bat.
Sadie Smith went down swinging and Vela lined out to end the inning, but not before Farrell scored on a wild pitch to bring the score to 6-0.
In the top of the second, the Greyhounds put their first two batters on base against Vela, but the St. Paul senior induced three straight grounders to get out of the inning with no damage.
The Bucks got back to work in the bottom of the inning, plating five more runs, four of which came with two outs on the board.
Gaston broke the shutout in the top of the third, taking advantage of a St. Paul error to put junior Alix Heisler on third. She scored on a fielder's choice before the Bucks recorded the third out of the inning.
St. Paul's offense picked up where it left off, plating seven more runs in the inning via five walked batters and three more who reached base after being hit by Belle-Isle.
Gaston found some ground to stand on in the top of the fourth, staging a two-out rally that resulted in three runs to bring the game to its final 18-4 margin of victory.
The two teams went scoreless the rest of the way, culminating in a double play in the top of the fifth, followed by a grounder to shortstop Destiny Smith, who recorded the final out at first base to seal the win.
Vela went the full five innings on the mound for St. Paul, giving up three earned runs while surrendering five hits and four walks. She earned it all back on the other side of the plate, leading the Bucks with four RBIs and a run scored on three singles.
Tuck went two-of-three at the plate, and co-led the team in runs scored along with Destiny Smith and Southerland, each of whom crossed home plate three times.
The Bucks await the results of the final OSAA rankings, which will freeze Thursday night at 10 p.m. and determine the final placement of the state playoff teams.
St. Paul will open the first round of the 2A/1A state playoffs on Monday. If the Bucks win, they will advance to the second round on Wednesday against one of the six league champions.
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