FOREST GROVE — Friday’s first-round state playoff game against Forest Grove wasn’t supposed to be easy for the HRV softball team. But it wasn’t supposed to be impossible either.
Playing against a fellow No. 4 seed afforded the Eagles a positive mental edge they would need if they were to advance past the first round.
However, Vikings senior pitcher Erin Kemper employed her own edge — a sharp, jagged one — to bowl through the Eagles’ lineup and pace her team to a 4-0 victory.
“We were dominated by a great pitcher,” HRV coach Phil Hukari said of Kemper, who struck out 13 and gave up just one basehit on the afternoon. “We haven’t been hitting well as a team lately and she exposed us.”
Right fielder Lesley Betts was the only HRV hitter to figure out Kemper’s wicked delivery — and that was on the first pitch of the game.
Betts tapped a grounder third-base side and beat the throw to first base Ichiro-style to give the Eagles early life. She then stole second and third, but Kemper quickly sat down three of the next four batters to end the threat.
Kemper helped her own cause in the bottom half of the first with an RBI double off Lauren Gaulke. But Gaulke regained her composure to retire the next two batters and keep it 1-0.
She was flawless in the second, but got into trouble again in the third after a leadoff basehit by Emelia O’Shanecy and a botched putout of Caitlyn Ooley at first.
Ooley stole second and tried to score on a Kemper single, but HRV centerfielder Michelle Connors delivered a perfect strike to catcher Katie Pritchett to nail Ooley at the plate and keep the Eagles close at 2-0.
The Vikings tallied two more runs in the third, taking advantage of two more Eagle errors — one on an overthrow of third base; the other, a poor fielding decision on a bunt in front of home plate.
But Gaulke settled down and went after the next two hitters, getting Nikki Smith to strike out and Christina Drinkwater to ground out.
“I felt really good about my outing,” said the junior, who gave up only one earned run to go with six basehits, two strikeouts and one walk.
“We came a bit unraveled in the third, but we played well after that. It was a good experience and I think we learned some things that will help us next year,” she said.
Despite being down four runs after three, the Eagles appeared to have plenty of fight left in them. They still showed confidence in the batter’s box and got to every stray ball the rest of the way.
Connors and Betts each made countless sparkling defensive plays in the outfield, while second baseman Whitney Zuercher showed off her gold-glove abilities on numerous occasions.
Gaulke also had to sacrifice her body on one play, taking a liner off the kneecap in the fifth. Seemingly stronger from the experience, she stepped back onto the mound after a brief respite and sat down the next two batters to close out the inning.
Not one player on the field was willing to give in. Afterall, this was the first state playoff game for the program since 1996 — the year HRV won the state 4A championship.
Giving them added incentive, seniors Tara Level, Angie Martin, Zuercher and Betts were each playing in their final game for HRV.
“After four years, it’s nice to be recognized,” said Martin, who started at third base in every game this season. “We’re all happy we made it to state. I don’t think it was our best game, but it was a good note to end the season on.”
The younger players also benefitted greatly from the 2002 state playoff run.
“This team really bonded this year,” said Connors, a sophomore. “We’re all like sisters and it’s a really good team atmosphere. The next couple years should be fun.”
HRV will return five starters next season when it moves into the Intermountain Conference.