PRINEVILLE -- The Gladstone Gladiators knew going into Tuesday's OSAA Class 4A softball semifinal game agaisnt Crook County that nothing would come easily.
After all, the host Cowgirls had already defeated the Gladiators three times during the Tri-Valley Conference season, so why would Tuesday's game be any different?
The Gladiators gave Crook County all it could handle until the 12th inning when Emma Ackley scored from third on an error with one out to lift the Cowgirls to a 3-2 victory and send the reigning league champions into the championship finals for the first time in school history.
It was the longest softball playoff game sicne the OSAA expanded to six classifications in 2007. It also was the fourth game between the two league rivals this season to be decided by two runs or less.
"It was two great teams going at it," Gladstone coach David Just said. "Pitchers hitting their spots. Teams executing their plays. I think having two teams from the TVL in the final four speaks volumes as far as these two teams. They represent the league well and they are competitive."
In a battle featuring two of the top pitchers in the state -- Gladstone's Madi Mott and Crook County's McKuenzie McCormick -- both teams knew that runs would be at a premium.
The game remained scoreless until the sixth inning when McKuenzie left a pitch up over the plate and Mott drove to straightaway center field for a solo homer that cleared the fence by eight feet and landed about 60 feet beyond the fence.
"My initial thought was, 'Okay, we finally scored,'" Mott said. "But my afterthought was, 'Somebody needs to follow it up with another home run or we need to tack on some insurance runs.' I knew one run wasn't going to be enough."
Crook County answered in the bottom half of the sixth when Aspen Christianen was on second with two outs and scored on McCormicks's single to right, tying the score at 1-1.
Still tied after nine innings, the teams started each ensuing inning with a runner on second base to try and help break the deadlock.
After a scoreless 10th inning, Gladstone regained the lead in the 11th as Kaitlin Coy started the inning on second, went to third on Sabrina Ward's sacrifice bunt, and scored after the Cowgirls misplayed Desiree Alvarado's grounder to third base into an error, giving the Gladiators a 2-1 lead.
Crook County again answered when Matney Searcy started the inning on second, went to third on Christiansen's ground out to first, and scored on Hailey Smith's two-out single to left, making it 2-2.
With Emily Clinckscales on second for Gladstone to start the 12th inning, Kinzi McLeod drew a leadoff walk -- the only walk McCormick surrendered in the game. Maddi Brady then popped out and Shaye Pinner put down a sacrifice bunt to advance Clincksclaes to third, bringing Carli Brown to the plate with two outs.
Brown drilled a hard shot up the middle that ricocheted off McCormick's glove and directly to Martinez at second base. Martinez fielded the ball cleanly and came up firing, throwing Brown out as first base by less than a step.
Ackley started the Crook County 12th at second, and advanced to third on a ground out by Ashley Owens. Cowgirls coach Jessica Cross then called a squeeze play. As Ackley broke hard from third, Martinez drove a hard ground ball toward second, where Ward failed to field the ball cleanly, allowing Ackley to score the winning run.
"These are the kinds of games you expect in the post season," Cross said. "To see the girls dig so deep and persevere through every single inning and just to have McKuenzie's back on the mound. Our defense was solid tonight and I couldn't ask for more."
Mott threw 149 pitches, including 115 for strikes, and scattered seven hits over 11 1-3 innings with two walks and seven strikeouts.
"In a regular game, it would be tougher pitching so many innings," Mott said. "But now that it's a championship game, we've got an adrenalin rush and it was a lot easier having a team that was energized behind me.
"We had all the tools to do it and we gave it our all and that makes it hurt a little bit less. I'm just proud of how my team battled and I don't think that we could have performed any better."
McCormick was just as solid for the Cowgirls, allowing one run on six hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts.
"I'm tired and my foot hurts, but nothing's better than coming out on top," McCormick said.
Although he was disappointed in the loss, Just was proud of his team.
"That's two years in a row where we made it to the semis and we've been in two one-run ballgames," he said. "We got beat last year 3-2 and we got beat this year 3-2 and we're in the ballgame. I'm really proud of these kids and I wish Crook County the best. Jess runs a good program."
Cross was also proud of her team and complimentary of Gladstone's efforts.
"The way we responded each time they scored, I think that makes a huge statement for sure," she said. "They have an amazing team. Madi Mott is just a beast on the mound and they made some amazing defensive plays tonight. They executed when they needed to as well, we just got the last run."
GLADSTONE 3, BANKS 0: Gladstone's Madi Mott struck out the side in order in the seventh inning, putting the final touch on a six-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts as the visiting Gladiators overwhelmed No. 2-ranked Banks 3-0 in the May 26 softball quarterfinals.
Gladstone took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Sabrina Ward led off with a single and scored on Emily Clinkscales' two-out single to right.
In the third inning, Desiree Alvardo and Clinkscales drew walks from
Banks' starter Michaela Shaw, setting the stage for Kinzi McLeod's two-out single that scored Alvardo to give the Gladiators a 2-0 lead.
Gladstone extended the lead to 3-0 in the fifth when Mott doubled with one out and Clinkscales followed with an RBI-single to center.
Banks advanced one runner as far as third base and left three other runners stranded at second base, marking the first time the Braves (24-2) had been shutout since a 4-0 loss to McLoughlin in the 2015 state championship game.