For the St. Helens High Lady Lions softball team, advancing to the OSAA state playoffs for the first time in four years provided them with lots of momentum coming into a matchup against the Hood River Valley Eagles.
Despite the fact that they were in the role as an underdog, the No. 17-ranked Lions (11-14) certainly were not intimidated at all while facing the highly regarded No. 2 ranked Eagles (21-7) and they had hopes of getting an upset victory.
St. Helens played well, but the Eagles proved worthy of their high recognition as they pulled out an 8-0 win over the Lions in an OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union Class 5A Softball First Round playoff game Wednesday, May 22, at Westside Middle School in Hood River.
The Lions, guided by seventh-year coach Miranda Little, started the contest playing with a high energy level and they loaded the bases in the top of the first inning on singles by sophomore Kamryn Hubbs (2-for-3, two singles), sophomore Kaily Smith (1-for-2, single, walk) and junior Brynn Austin (1-for-3, single). However all three runners were left stranded as the Lions were unable to take advantage of the scoring opportunity.
"We hit the ball really well (seven hits) and we loaded the bases early in the game and showed them that we were going to give them a good fight," St. Helens Softball Coach Miranda Little said. "We always try to come out and play very aggressively. We executed well and we had baserunners in almost every inning, but we just couldn't get them across home plate."
Little said going into the game, St. Helens knew that Hood River was a quick, hard hitting team.
"It's kind of hard to field the ball though when they were hitting the ball into gaps frequently," she said. "Our girls never give up, we always battle back and we came from behind 11-1 to get an 18-16 win in the regular season (May 16 win over Parkrose). That's one of the things that we do in our softball program. I'm extremely proud of the girls for reaching the state playoffs. I'm proud of how we got to this point. We had some crucial games near the end of the season that we had to win in order to reach the playoffs and that's exactly what we did."
Hood River responded and scored two runs in the bottom half of the inning to take a 2-0 lead after one inning. After a scoreless second, Hood River added a run in the third to go on top 3-0. The Eagles then demonstrated its potent offensive attack (15 total hits) by scoring three in the fourth to build a 6-0 lead.
The Lions never gave up though and they loaded the bases in the top of the fifth, while trying to score and stay within striking distance of the tough Eagles. The Lions had a golden opportunity to score too. Senior Bailey Hamilton reached base on a fielder's choice, Hubbs singled and Smith walked to load up the bags and put baserunners in scoring position.
The Eagles however, continued playing rock solid defense and prevented the Lions from scoring by making key infield plays to get runners out and preventing the Lions from scoring. Hood River added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth for the 8-0 lead.
Hood River, the second place team from the extremely tough Intermountain Conference (four top-10 ranked teams), advanced to play Dallas in Friday's semifinals in Hood River.
The Lions concluded the year with their first state playoff berth since 2015 and they finished fourth in the Northwest Oregon Conference. The contest marked the final game of their St. Helens High softball career for seniors Taylor Dow, Hamilton, Smith, Flores and McKayla Foster.