In order to stay in the running for the Columbia River Conference title, the Hood River Valley High Eagles softball team faced a must-win situation in Saturday’s home doubleheader versus the Hermiston Bulldogs.
After starting league play 0-4, coach Eric Keller’s Lady Eagles needed to get a win to prevent the season from slipping away; and that’s exactly what they did. Kelsey Wells hit her first career varsity homer to help lift HRV to a come-from-behind 3-2 game-2 win over Hermiston.
The No. 11-ranked Bulldogs (4-1 CRC, 11-8 overall) edged the Eagles 1-0 in the opening contest at Westside Elementary School.
“We changed the lineup a little and Kelsey certainly took advantage of her opportunity; she just had an awesome game,” said Keller. “It was nice having some offensive fireworks today to help us get a much-needed victory. It was imperative that we get the win in game 2. It was tough starting league play with a slump. Now that it’s over, hopefully we can start a winning streak.”
The Eagles (1-4 CRC, 11-5) ranked fourth in the OSAA Class 5A level, started a slump after losing three straight to the defending state champion and No. 1-ranked Pendleton Buckaroos (4-1 CRC, 15-4). It continued with a disappointing 1-0 loss to Hermiston in Saturday’s noon contest.
One rough inning doomed the Eagles, as Hermiston broke a scoreless third-inning deadlock to go up 1-0. The Eagles were unable to capitalize on a golden opportunity to score in the bottom of the frame as they loaded the bases, but all three baserunners were left stranded and it remained a 1-0 Bulldog lead after three.
It was a scoreless game the next four innings in what was a pitcher’s duel as junior hurler Kayla Byers had an outstanding performance in tossing a three-hittter with 11 strikeouts. The Eagles outhit the Bulldogs with five hits off Hermiston senior pitcher Paige Long. HRV’s recent sluggish offense (one run in three games) proved to be it’s downfall as the girls were unable to get any clutch hits to drive runs in and they had a total of six runners left on base during the game.
“It felt good to finally get our first league win and we deserved it too,” said Byers. “We’ve had somewhat of a rough start in league play, but we’re starting to hit the ball a little better now.”
In game 2, the Eagles actually had fewer hits (four) than in the first game, but they were more productive at-bats for sure. Much like game 1, it was another hard fought pitchers duel with Byers and Long both having strong performances from the mound.
Hermiston again took the initial advantage with a two-run fourth. The Eagles quickly responded in the bottom of the inning when leadoff batter Natalia Ames drew a walk. Two batters later, Annie Veatch also walked. Wells (2-for-3) then followed with a three-run blast over the 200-foot left field fence.
“I haven’t been hitting too well and I’ve been in a slump recently, but this game kind of changed things for me,” said Wells. “This helps to raise our confidence level and now we feel like we can come back and beat them again when we face them on Tuesday. It’s a great feeling to get our first league win and everyone is really excited.”
The Eagle defense, led by Byers, first baseman Ames and centerfielder Erika Enriquez (1-for-3, single) completely shut down the Bulldogs over the last three innings to help preserve the victory. Enriquez made a number of excellent catches of sharply hit balls to center, including a spectacular play while sliding forward on the grass to grab a ball underhanded.
“I don’t want anyone to score and that’s the mentality that I play with,” said Enriquez. “I think we’ve developed a better rhythm with our hitting and I think we’ll have another strong hitting game again on Tuesday (versus Hermiston). This was a confidence boosting win and we really needed it. I really believe that we can get back into contention for first place, but we just have to get our bats going.”
Senior second baseman Amanda McCafferty made a big clutch play in the top of the seventh. McCafferty caught a pop-up fly ball for the third and final out of the game, when Hermiston threatened to score with two base runners.
Byers overpowered the Bulldogs while throwing her usual fastball of 60 miles per hour, along with an assortment of various pitches (changeup, dropball, curveball) to keep the Bulldogs off balance throughout the game. Byers struck out nine for an impressive total of 20 strikeouts in the two games.