North Douglas thwarts Kennedy's repeat title bid
After a stellar spring season that included a fourth consecutive conference title, a sweep of the top All-Conference awards and the third trip to the state finals game in program history, the Kennedy softball team's quest for back-to-back championship trophies fell one game short.
Facing off against North Douglas in the 2019 2A/1A Softball State Championship game on Friday, the Trojans fell in a 9-0 hole early on before rallying in latter innings in a 15-6 loss to the Warriors.
Though it was not the ending the team envisioned after an otherwise incredible season, just getting there was an accomplishment for the Trojans after graduating four All-State seniors from last year's championship team.
"I didn't think we'd be here," Kennedy head coach Walt Simmons said. "I thought we'd have to make too many adjustments, but things worked out for us."
Add in the departure of several key players who were expected to play key roles this year and the late start for injured sophomore Hailey Arritola, and the Kennedy coaching staff figured it would be another year before the players would be able to adjust to their new roles within the system.
"For these kids to accomplish what they accomplished with only one player in their original position from last year is pretty incredible," Simmons said. "I think that's why they say it's tough to repeat. It's a tough deal."
Yet the team persevered. After two years playing limited innings, junior Grace Schaecher stepped into the pitcher's circle and delivered a masterful season, winning Conference Pitcher of the Year. Fellow junior Emily Cuff played her partner on the other end, winning Conference Player of the Year honors at catcher.
The pair led the Trojans to six First Team All-Conference selections, and nine league awards total, in addition to Simmons' selection as Coach of the Year.
But the team ran into a familiar wrecking ball in the form of North Douglas and junior ace Nicki Derrick.
The two programs have met six straight years in the playoffs, and this year's iteration of the Warriors had simply too much firepower for the Trojans to contain.
Playing at the University of Oregon's Jane Sanders Stadium, Kennedy fell into a deep deficit against North Douglas, which took a 1-0 advantage and blew it up with six runs in the second inning to put the Trojans in a hole too big to climb out of.
Meanwhile, Derrick kept the Trojans largely at bay, throwing three hitless innings as her team built it's nine-run lead that ultimately led to Simmons making the difficult choice to relieve Schaecher in the fourth in favor of sophomore Ellie Cantu.
"It's tough, but we had to look at it and make the change," Simmons said. "I try to put them in a position to be successful, so (Schaecher) probably would have fought through it, but I felt maybe making a change and having a different look (would work)."
The Warrior bats continued to ring true, scoring at least one run in every inning through the remainder of the game, but the Trojans weren't prepared to go home early.
Following the pitching change, Kennedy's offense began to take shape, answering every North Douglas run with one of their own. Sophomore Elise Suing recorded the team's first hit of the game in the fourth inning, and the Trojans proceeded to load the bases, breaking the shutout with a single from freshman Lydia Berning that brought in Suing and Rylie Newton to make it a 9-2 game.
"I just told them to compete, and don't worry about the score," Simmons said. "We're here. Maybe they're up right now, but show everybody why we're here, and they responded."
After two more North Douglas runs in the top of the fifth, Kennedy answered again. Cuff walked to open the bottom of the frame and scored on a deep triple to left center field by Cantu. Kelsey Kleinschmit followed with single to score Cantu and make it 11-4 going into the top of the sixth.
The two teams traded runs for one more inning. Kennedy scored its final runs on a bases loaded fly ball from Schaecher that was dropped, leading to Arritola and Berning to plate the team's final runs.
"They came out and said, 'We can put the ball in play and maybe something good will happen,'" Simmons said. "Six good things happened."
North Douglas scored twice more in the top of the seventh to bring the game to its final margin of victory, and Derrick pitched a perfect inning to finish the game to give the Warriors their second title in program history.
Berning led the Trojans offensively, going 2-for-3 with two RBIs, a walk and a run scored.
Derrick recorded 16 strikeouts in seven innings to lead the Warriors, while Natali Draeger led North Douglas at the plate, going 4-for-5 with three RBIS and two runs scored.
Berning and Draeger were each named Players of the Game for their respective teams.
2019 Special District 2 Softball All-Conference Awards
Player of the Year: Emily Cuff
Pitcher of the Year: Grace Schaecher
Coach of the Year: Walt Simmons
Emily Cuff, Jr. — C
Grace Schaecher, Jr. — P
Kelsey Kleinschmidt, So. — INF
Ellie Cantu, So. — OF
Rylie Newton, So. — OF
Lydia Berning, Fr. — OF
Elise Suing, So. — INF
Hailey Arritola, So. — INF
Sophia Carley, Jr. — 1B