Kingsmen make a state final for the first time in two decades
Rex Putnam High School softball players left Oregon State Universitys Softball Complex Saturday as champions in the minds of their fans.
Theyd played their hearts out, leaving it all on the field in a 2-1 loss to Class 5A softball powerhouse Pendleton in the championship final of the 2014 Class 5A state softball playoffs.
Theyve done a great job, said Putnam coach Tiffany Strnad. Theyve come together and played as a team. Theyre just like a family, and I wouldnt trade them for the world!
Its the first time since Putnam won a state title in softball in 1995 that a Kingsmen softball team has advanced past the quarterfinals. Its a Putnam team from which little was expected, since the team had gone 7-17 (5-9 in league) and finished fifth in the eight-team Northwest Oregon Conference just a year ago.
I saw potential in this team from the beginning of the year, said Putnam senior outfielder Lauren Roberts. After last year, people didnt expect much from us, but we proved them wrong. Its been a special season for us....
For many of Pendletons players, reaching the state final was nothing new. The Buckaroos were state champions in 2012 and some of the seniors on this years team had played in the state final as freshmen in 2011.
The Buckaroos this spring had been a scoring machine, averaging 8.3 runs a game for the 29 games that theyd played prior to the final. Before Saturdays final, only one other team this season had held them to as few as two runs. They lost to 2014 Class 4A state champion McLoughlin 6-2 in an April 15 game at McLoughlin.
After getting a new hitting facility at their school just prior to the 2014 season, the Buckaroos practiced their hitting, a lot, this spring. The result was a school-record 36 home runs by the team on the 2014 season.
The home run proved pivotal in Saturdays final.
With her team trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Pendleton junior Tiah Grass, who had struck out in her two previous at bats, lofted a wind-driven ball over the fence in left field, knotting the score at 1-1.
The round-tripper, Grass 12th homer of the year, ignited a fire in her teammates and brought Pendleton fans to their feet. Pendleton had not advanced a baserunner past second base until that point.
Pendletons next batter, sophomore clean-up hitter Alexis Morrison, followed with a base hit to right field. Freshman Payton Hergert moved Morrison to second with a sacrifice bunt, and Morrison scored the game-winner on a one-out base hit to left field by senior Lindsey Roach (2-for-3).
Pendleton senior pitcher Hailey Kline then sent the Kingsmen down in order in the top of the seventh, and the Buckaroos celebrated the come-from-behind victory.
Kline (4 hits, no walks) only had two strikeouts in the game. But her teammates supported her with clutch defensive play when it counted.
Putnam scored its lone run in the fourth frame. Junior outfielder Kate Betschart led off the inning with a base hit up the middle, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior shortstop Taylor Balfour and a rare Buckaroo error, and scored on a hard hit ball to left by senior catcher Ashley Culp.
Putnam junior third baseman Maggie Waymire moved Balfour and Culp to second and third with a sacrifice bunt. But Pendleton then got out of the inning with a pop up and a tag-out in a rundown between third and home.
Except for the fourth inning, Putnam never threatened to score.
Putnam freshman Sarah Abramson was solid in the circle, except for the sixth inning, when the hard-hitting Buckaroos strung their three hits together and scored their only runs.
Abramson had five strikeouts, while issuing two free passes and yielding six hits.
Culp said of the home run pitch, It was supposed to be an outside change, but it ended up an inside change, and she went with it. It was a nice hit. She hit it hard.
Both teams made their share of standout defensive plays behind their pitchers, who were named their teams players of the game.
Betschart chased down a hard hit fly ball near the fence in right-center in the third inning. And the Kingsmen turned an impressive double play to foil a Buckaroo scoring threat in the fifth inning.
Pendleton junior Darian Lindsey got the Buckaroos hopes up in the fifth when she hammered a one-out double to the fence in left field.
The next batter hit a ground ball to Balfour at shortstop. Balfour fired to sophomore Brooke Snyder at first, and Snyder rifled the ball to Waymire, who caught Lindsey with her glove as Lindsey approached third for an inning-ending double play. That silenced the Buckaroo crowd, until Grass ignited the fire with her round-tripper to lead off the sixth.
Pendleton finished the year with an overall record of 24-6. Pendleton and Putnam were ranked third and fifth respectively in the final OSAA RPI rankings.
Pendleton advanced to the championship final through state playoff wins over 14th-ranked Corvallis (10-0 in six innings), sixth-ranked Liberty (4-1) and second-ranked Hood River (3-2).
Putnam advanced to the final through state playoff wins over 13th-ranked Churchill (3-1), fourth-ranked West Albany (2-1 in 10 innings) and eighth-ranked St. Helens (3-2).
Putnam finished up with an overall record of 22-8, after going 12-2 in league and tying St. Helens for the Northwest Oregon Conference championship. Putnams losses were to 6A teams Central Catholic, Westview, Lakeridge and Glencoe, to Pendleton (twice), and to St. Helens and Liberty.
It means a lot [to make the state title game for the first time since 1995], said Balfour. But it means more to me to have had the experience of playing with these girls. These girls are my family and, win or lose, I couldnt have asked for a greater experience...
At Putnam, we never hang our heads. We stay loud and proud, no matter what.
Its an awesome feeling [playing in the state final]! said Culp. Its been a total team effort...
It means everything, said Putnam senior second baseman Mariah Oliver, who transferred to Putnam this year. At my other schools, I never got past first round. I wish I could have come here sooner.
Its such a great feeling, getting here as a junior, said Betschart. It makes me want to fight harder and get my team back here next year.
We were a young team this year, and we had a freshman pitcher that got us here, said Roberts. I see a strong future for this team.
Theyll make it here again, said Culp. Theyll be back here next year. Theyre solid, and they play with so much heart.
With the girls coming up and the girls now on the team, they have a lot of potential, said Oliver. I believe they can do bigger and better things than we did. Next year, its state champs.
Vying for the Kingsmen in the 2014 state title game were: seniors Taylor Balfour (shortstop), Ashley Culp (catcher), Lauren Roberts (right field) and Mariah Oliver (second base); juniors Kate Betschart (centerfield), Maggie Waymire (third base) and Hayley Dolfay (designated player); sophomores Brooke Snyder (first base) and Sydney Nichols (left field); and freshmen Sarah Abramson (pitcher) and Justice Duval (courtesy runner).
Also on the roster were: senior Kim White (infield), and sophomores Elysia Webb (infield), McKenzie Cruz (utility), Taylar Schmidt (outfield) and Vicki Garvin (outfield/catcher).