The Hood River Valley High School varsity girls softball team, ranked No. 2 in the OSAA Class 5A level, hopes to prove that its worthy of such high recognition when the Eagles meet the Hermiston Bulldogs in a Columbia River Conference noon doubleheader Saturday at Westside Elementary.
Hood River (10-4 overall, 0-3 CRC) is focusing on bouncing back after losing three straight, including a tough 2-0 loss to the defending state champion Pendleton Buckaroos (14-3, 3-0) in their last game on Tuesday at home.
“They (Pendleton) are an incredibly tough team; they’re resilient and they never give up,” coach Eric Keller said about the loss. “They’re always capable of putting some runs up on the scoreboard. We came out and played solid defensively. We just had one little miscue in the sixth inning when we allowed two runs to score and then we just couldn’t answer back.”
The Eagles, led by standout junior pitcher Kayla Byers, are optimistic about their chance to get crucial first league wins Saturday at home versus the 13th-ranked Bulldogs (10-7, 3-0). Hermiston opened league play last weekend with three straight victories over The Dalles-Wahtonka Eagle-Indians (9-7, 0-3).
“We had a chance to score at the end of the game, but I just don’t know what happened,” said Byers, who had an impressive performance in the pitching circle while throwing a four-hitter with eight strikeouts Tuesday. “We played really well, but it just wasn’t the outcome that we had hoped for. We’re a great hitting team, but we just had an off day and it wasn’t one of our best hitting games.”
No. 1 ranked Pendleton, which has won seven straight, was led by senior pitcher Marissa Jones, who tossed a two-hitter. Seniors Hallie Curtis (1-for-2) and Natalia Ames (1-for-2), who both singled, were the only Eagles to get a hit in the low-scoring defensive battle between the state’s top two ranked 5A teams.
“Kayla was real solid in the pitching circle and we also had some other great defensive plays,” said Keller. “Annie Veatch (catcher) threw a couple of girls out who were trying to steal and we played great defense in the outfield to help support Kayla. Our bats just fell quiet and that’s what hurt us. Pendleton’s pitcher (Jones) was hitting her spots good, she kept us off-balance and we struggled to make adjustments.”
Pendleton broke a scoreless deadlock with a two-run sixth inning to take a 2-0 edge and the Eagle were unable to respond offensively in the final two innings.
“We’re capable of beating every team in our league and I know we can beat Pendleton,” said Byers. The girls will get another shot at the Buckaroos May 3 at home. “I feel confident that we’ll play much better on Saturday and I think that we’ll do a better job with our hitting. Hermiston is a good hitting team too, so it’s really going to be a good battle.”
A week ago, HRV opened league play losing 12-11 and 10-1 to the Buckaroos in an away doubleheader. In the first game, Pendleton overcame a 10-2 deficit by scoring five runs in both the fifth and sixth frames to take a 12-10 advantage. HRV responded with a run in the seventh but it wasn’t enough to retake the lead. The Eagles outhit the Bucks 19-12, but left too many runners stranded on bases.
Amanda McCafferty (3-for-4, four RBI), Erika Enriquez (3-for-6, RBI, two singles, double) and Curtis (3-for-5) led HRV’s offense. Byers (2-for-5, two RBI) had a strong hitting performance at the plate too and she also pitched well while recording nine strikeouts.
HRV lost 10-1 in the second game as they were out of synch offensively and defensively. The Eagles fell behind 4-1 through five innings and then Pendleton took control with a six-run sixth to build a comfortable 10-1 margin.
“We’re playing pretty well and we’ll bounce back and hopefully, we’ll make some good things happen and play better on Saturday versus Hermiston,” said Keller. “We just have to continue fighting and play aggressively. Every team in our league is good. We just need to get better each and every day and as long as we continue to do that, then we’ll be okay.”
Now at 8-8 overall and 1-2 in conference play, the season has been something of a roller coaster ride for the Hood River Valley High School varsity baseball team. The Eagles have alternated wins and losses for the last month and, although unable to ride any sort of winning streak, they’ve battled through some tough situations against solid teams to take hard-earned victories.
After losing 8-4 to the defending CRC champion, the Pendleton Buckaroos, Tuesday in their most recent game, the team will look to rebound once again as it hosts a doubleheader Saturday against the No. 3 ranked Hermiston Bulldogs. With nine games left in the season, a pair of wins this weekend will go a long way in aiming the team toward a state playoff berth.
“We won’t have any breaks in the schedule from here on out and we’re in a bit of hole. We just need to get out of it,” said coach Erich Harjo. “Hermiston is every bit as good as Pendleton, so they’ll provide us with a tough challenge. The first game of a doubleheader is huge. If you can get past that and pull out a win, then there’s a good chance that your momentum will continue in the second game as well.”
In Tuesday’s loss the Eagles showed resilient qualities by overcoming deficits twice and knotting the score to put themselves into winning position. Led by starting pitcher Ty Bofferding (five strikeouts, eight hits allowed) HRV battled back and tied the score 2-2 in the fourth. After Pendleton regained a 3-2 lead in the fifth, the Eagles again came back, tying it 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth. Sophomore Kameron Walker (two RBI) and senior Luke Kopecky (two hits), helped lead the Eagle offense.
With the momentum seemingly in HRV’s favor, Pendleton responded by scoring five runs in the top of the seventh and, aided by Eagle errors, took control with an 8-3 lead. Eagle pitchers Alex Jimenez, Walker and Nick Weekly were unable to slow the Bucks’ offensive attack in the seventh though, and the Eagles were simply unable to respond to the knockout blow.
“They (Pendleton) are a real good team; they’re consistent in what they do and that’s why they’re the defending league champs and they’ll likely be a 20-win team again this year,” said Harjo. “To beat a team like that, you’ve got to shut them down when you can and then get some clutch hits. We just had one bad inning and we couldn’t seem to do anything well offensively or defensively.”
Pendleton (10-6, 2-1 CRC) outhit HRV 12-8 and the Eagles were unable to overcome a total of seven costly errors.
“We’re 16 games into the season and it would seem like these kids would come out ready to play hard at the beginning of the game,” said Harjo. “It just seems like the first three innings of every game, they’re just not well focused and ready to play. They’re a good four-inning team, but you have to play tough for seven innings. Until we do that, then we’re just going to continue being an average team.”
In their CRC opener a week ago in Pendleton, the Eagles split wins with Pendleton, taking one game 10-3 and letting the other slip away 6-5.
In the loss, HRV had a chance with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, but was unable to drive home the tying run. HRV outhit PHS 9-8, with Kellan Duffy (3-for-4, RBI) and Jacob Quintanilla (1-for-2, 2 RBI) leading the Eagles’ offense. Jimenez had a strong performance on the mound as he struck out five and allowed just two hits in three innings pitched. Mistakes again hurt HRV, which had a total of six errors.
In the winning game, junior pitcher Connor Olson had a remarkable performance as he scattered six hits and struck out seven in the complete game win. Duffy (2-for-3, seven RBI, two home runs) helped lead the Eagles offense highlighted by a grand slam — his fourth homer this year — as he combined with teammates Weekly (1-for-4, RBI) and Ryan Colesar (1-for-4, RBI) to help HRV outhit Pendleton 10-6.
Following Saturday’s contest, HRV will travel to Hermiston April 23 to meet the Bulldogs in a 4:30 p.m. contest.