After winning eight straight to improve its record to 10-1, perhaps the sky is the limit this eason for the high-flying Hood River Valley High Eagles softball team. HRV, ranked seventh in the OSAA Class 5A level, showed it’s deserving of high recognition after sweeping a doubleheader 11-1 and 8-5 over the Bend Lava Bears (3-6) Saturday.
The quartet of Kayla Byers (two home runs, five RBI), Annie Veatch (two singles, two doubles, four RBI), Amanda McCafferty (three RBI) and Hallie Curtis (four hits, four runs scored, two RBI) combined to lead coach Eric Keller’s powerhouse Eagle squad that totaled 20 hits in the two nonleague games Saturday at 16th Street Ballpark in The Dalles. The contest was moved from Hood River after steady rain made field conditions unplayable at the Eagles’ home field.
“Despite these adverse conditions, we came out to the ballpark and the girls got their job done,” said Keller, HRV’s third-year coach. “The girls are doing lots of things well and it’s exciting to see how good they can be when they play up to their potential like they did today. When Kayla is on, she’s definitely one of the best Class 5A pitchers in the state and as long as she stays within her zone, then she’ll help us win lots of games.”
The first game actually started in Hood River and the Eagles recorded two defensive putouts of Bend batters before inclement weather forced a delay and the teams proceeded to travel to The Dalles to continue playing without any threat of rain. HRV quickly got a third out and the Eagles went to work offensively in the bottom half of the first inning.
Freshman Madi Vallejo ignited a rally with a leadoff single, followed by her steal of second. McCafferty (2-for-6, three runs scored) drove home Vallejo after ripping a line drive single to left field, making it 1-0. Curtis followed when she drew a walk from Bend pitcher Merridith Berrigan and two batters later scored along with McCafferty on a Veatch two-run single with a fly ball to right field for a 3-0 lead.
“We’ve had good preparation for our upcoming league schedule,” said Veatch. “We’ve really stepped up our performance level from last year and I’m excited about the potential we have to be successful this season. We sure crushed the ball today and we put a lot of runs up on the scoreboard. Everything is really clicking for us; we’re playing well and we have high expectations for the season.”
Senior Hannah Williams reached base on a fielder’s choice and then scored on an RBI double by senior first baseman Natalia Ames (1-for-4), who fired a sharply hit ball to a right field gap. Ames, one of four Eagle seniors along with Williams, McCafferty and Curtis, scored on a passed ball to give HRV a 5-0 advantage after one. HRV batted around its lineup with all nine players going to the plate in the inning.
Byers, who had an overpowering performance in the pitching circle with 25 total strikeouts in two games, struck out three consecutive Lava Bears in the second. In the bottom of the frame, McCafferty reached base on an error and after a Curtis single, Byers demonstrated her powerful hitting as she smashed a three-run homer well over the 200-foot left field fence, extending the margin to 8-0.
Following a scoreless third, Bend avoided by scoring a run in the fourth, aided by an Eagle error, making it 8-1. In a scoreless fifth, Byers continued to keep Bend batters off balance while throwing just eight pitches in the inning to get defensive putouts.
Bend continued struggling offensively in the sixth as Byers (12 strikeouts) continued her dominating three-hit performance to help thwart any potential Lava Bear rally. Bend’s Awbrie Elle Kinkade hit a double, but she was stranded on the basepaths as Byers struck out three other batters.
Kinkade, who had three hits, was the only Bend batter to get a hit in Game 1. HRV, which outhit Bend 12-3, ended the contest via the 10-run Mercy Rule in the sixth, highlighted by a two-run Byers homer over the 200-foot center field fence, for an 11-1 win.
“We usually play our best when we’re calm and relaxed, which is exactly the way we were playing today,” said Byers, who has hit five home runs this year. “We’re clicking well in every aspect of our game and it’s just been a great season so far. We’re playing so good together as a team and everything is coming together very well for us.”
HRV got off to a fast start again in the second game of the day with a second-inning offensive surge highlighted by key hits from McCafferty, Curtis and Veatch as the Eagles went up 6-0. Following a scoreless third, Bend got a run in the fourth, making it 6-1. The Eagles answered with RBI doubles by Veatch and Williams, extending the margin to 8-1.
“I felt a little nervous because of the rain that forced us to move the game and not have it at our home field, but I’m pretty happy with the results we got here today,” said Curtis. “We need to practice hard this week to help us prepare for a tough opening game (April 13 versus No. 1 ranked Pendleton) of our Columbia River Conference schedule. It’s going to be interesting, but I think we’ll do pretty well and hopefully we’ll have a good chance of maybe getting at least a split in the doubleheader next Saturday in Pendleton.”
A fifth inning Bend rally started to make things interesting as they trimmed the margin to 8-5 and then proceeded to load the bases while having the potential go-ahead run at the plate. Byers then calmly struck out a Bend batter to stop the Lava Bears momentum. Two scoreless frames followed as Byers was phenomenal in striking out five of six Bend batters. In the top of the seventh, Ames got a putout of a runner at first and Byers concluded the contest with another strikeout, her 13th of the game.
“It was tough last year and we faced some great pitchers and some very good teams, but I think we’ll be much more competitive in our league this year, and hopefully we’ll make the state playoffs too,” said Byers, who batted 5-for-6 and reached base in seven of eight at-bats on the day. “We all feel confident that we can get to the next level and reach our goals this year. We’re a better defensive team this year and we’re playing more consistently and making fewer infield errors than we did a year ago.”
HRV had a similarly strong start a year ago with a 9-2 nonleague mark, then had a slump while winning just three of 12 Columbia River Conference games to finish 12-14 in 2012. The Eagles are hoping to have a much improved league record this year and they’ll begin with a noon doubleheader on the road against the defending state champion Buckaroos (10-3). The Eagles won one out of four games against Pendleton last year.
“This is a whole new group of girls and our attitude is to focus on improving in each game,” said Keller. “It‘s always tough playing at Pendleton and they’ve enjoyed success and have an experienced squad. Our girls are well aware of what it takes to be successful too and we’re going to make a good run at them next week.
“We finished our nonleague schedule strong. Now we’ll play 12 games against some of the best teams in the state and we’ll see how well we can do against them. As long as we keep showing improvement in each game, then I think we’ll do just fine in league play and continue to enjoy success this year.”