Westview softball sends strong message, stuns Oregon City in 6A semifinals, 7-1
The exultant roar reverberated from the back of the Westview softball team bus to front, clattering the glass windows, turning heads of gasping parents as it rolled away from Oregon City High School into the evening back toward 185th Avenue.
It was an unconfined celebration befitting of an underdog officially shedding the moniker it so badly wants to abide by and stepping into its vast potential all in a seven-inning span, in a game the Wildcats supposedly weren't supposed to win.
The us-against-the-world Wildcats, squaring off against the state's best pitcher in Morgan Hornback and No. 1 Oregon City in the 6A semifinals, came in with a Texas-sized chip on their shoulder and are now on the doorstep of a state championship.
Hammering Hornback with round-the-lineup slugging in the sixth and seventh innings while playing determined defense and relying on their freshman dynamo pitcher Mia Patino, Westview shook Oregon City with a dominant 7-1 semifinal win over the Pioneers on Tuesday to advance to the 6A state championship game on Saturday. The No. 5 Wildcats will play No. 3 North Medford at the Oregon State softball complex at 4 p.m.
"We've been making a statement all season," Westview junior first baseman Ananya Koneti said. "Nobody expected us to come this far. We've moved from No. 33 in the state to No. 5 and then we come to (Oregon City) and do this. I think it just shows how much one team can do if you put your mind to it."
On paper, the Pioneers were the proverbial favorites to reach the state championship game, sporting a true top ace in Hornback, who's verbally committed to the University of Oregon, and a wealth of offensive weapons up-and-down the order. Yet, as Westview keeps verifying, predictions are nothing more than hot air.
"We thrive when teams think we're not good enough to beat them," Westview third baseman Kelsey Day. "We use that to push ourselves, to get a little determination and grit that you need to be a successful team."
The Wildcats stung Hornback with 10 hits including five for extra bases including a two-run homer from Day in the sixth inning and another two-run jack from senior catcher Natalie Munson in the seventh.
"This proves we can beat any team or hit any pitcher," Day said. "We're not going to cower away from strong teams."
Koneti got Westview on the scoreboard first with a RBI triple in the top of the third that gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. The junior's knock came after senior center fielder Emma Williams hustled out a two-out infield single through the Pioneer defense and stole second one pitch later to move into scoring position. Koneti, who had two hits against Hornback, said Westview went into their bout with the future Duck undaunted.
"There was no way we could face (Hornback) if we were scared," Koneti added. "The biggest thing for us was staying calm. We've hit the ball well all season. All we had to do was make contact and she would provide the power for us."
In the top of the sixth, with Koneti on first, Day squared up a Hornback fastball and hit it dead red over the centerfield fence to give Westview a 3-1 lead. Day kept her down on the ball all the way, connected and sent the towering fly ball over the chain link fence for the no-doubt-about-it two-run dinger. Day said she and Munson weren't necessarily "swinging for the fences", but more so was in search of pitches they could club back through the middle of the infield.
"That's what we did, we just took it a little further," Day said with a smile. "I wanted to stay on top (of the ball) and have a smooth swing. I didn't want to swing out of my shoes. I just wanted a line drive in one of the gaps."
Day, with two outs in the top of the seventh, dumped a bloop double to right that scored Williams and made it 5-1. And Munson put the semifinal to bed, slamming a two-run homer to left center that sent the lead into untouchable territory, 7-1.
"We have so much depth and talent in our lineup all throughout, whereas some of the past years we definitely had some weak spots," Day. "There are no holes in our order, so being able to rely on different parts of our lineup makes us a stronger team."
Patino out pitched, out dueled and even outhit her Pioneer counterpart, one-upping the Oregon City ace with a head-to-head RBI double in the top of the sixth that padded Westview's lead to 4-1. The freshman righty kept the Pioneers puzzled for seven straight stanzas with a mix of change-ups and riseballs that made the top team in the state look silly at times. Nursing Westview's slim 2-1 lead until the dam broke in the sixth, Patino maintained her composure and kept spinning her wide-ranging arsenal of pitches until her teammates unleashed hell on Hornback. Patino allowed just five hits while striking out four with only one walk.
"(Patino's) poise is what sets her apart from other freshmen pitchers," Koneti said. "Most young pitchers get rattled and she's able to keep herself calm and collected and handle what's in front of her. She's all about the next pitch and just doing her best. Her confidence in herself is really incredible."
As the heart of Westview's lineup kept plastering balls out near the Pioneer scoreboard and Patino continued to throw a gem, the Wildcats' exuberance in the dugout was tangible. Only once did Westview go down in consecutive order versus Hornback. The other six stanzas were de facto cheer-offs in the dugout, pepping up their teammates at the plate, creating an electric ambiance that seemed to wear down the Pioneers as the game unfolded while giving life to Westview's rallies.
"We don't shut up, ever," Koneti said with a laugh. "I love hearing teams talk about how loud we are, how distracting we are. It fuels us. It motivates us. One person's hit might start it. One person's play on defense might start it. We all jump on each other's energy and positivity and that's what really propelled us forward. At the end of the day, we're both great teams on this field and I think it's all about who wants it more. And, we showed that today with our energy and sound."
Between the lines, no team is as white-hot right now as the Wildcats who are riding this postseason wave of positive mojo toward their second state title game appearance in three seasons. They'll face a Black Tornado team that beat Glencoe in eight innings in the 6A quarterfinals and Tualatin 4-3 in the semis on Tuesday.
"Our main focus is on us," Koneti said. "It doesn't matter who, we're playing, it's all about us and getting better and playing our game because it's worked all season. That's the best we can do."
"We'll approach this just like it's any other game," Day said. "Some of us have been in the state championship before and I think it helped us realize that we can't treat the game differently."
Indeed, a number of Wildcats including Day, Koneti, Munson and Williams, amongst others, were underclassmen on the 2015 team that won 30 games but got trampled in the state title game by Tualatin, 10-0. That defeat was the first state title game to end in five innings since 1982. It was a startling display of how a bad inning or two can turn a game completely upside down if a team isn't completely united on all fronts. But, for those younger players who are now respected veterans leading this unpredicted group, losing like that was a tutorial of sorts.
"We learned we have to stick together as a team," Day said. "During that game, we definitely started to pull apart when (Tualatin) started scoring a lot of runs and we got down early. It taught us for us to do well, we have to stay together and pick everyone up."