Softball splits twin bill with ‘benchmark of the league’ Pendleton

The Pendleton softball program has been the envy of the Columbia River Conference almost since the league’s formation, as the Buckaroos have won the CRC title every year since 2012 (although the Bucks did share the honor with HRV in 2014).

The Bucks have a competitive program again this year, rated second in 5A softball, behind No. 1 Marist Catholic. But if Pendleton had plans to dominate the conference again, the Eagles threw a monkey wrench into them when they rolled into Pendleton Saturday afternoon and took the second game of a doubleheader — a result that put both teams at the top of the CRC.

“Anytime you are able to get a win over Pendleton is huge,” said HRV Head Coach Eric Keller. “They are the benchmark of the league and the target program to beat. Leaving Saturday with a split not only gives the girls a boost of confidence, but was an opportunity to win in a playoff-type environment.”

Pendleton 12, HRV 2

That HRV (10-8, 4-1 CRC) moxy wasn’t apparent in the opening game of the doubleheader, as Pendleton (16-3, 4-1) walked all over the Eagles, making a big opening statement with a five-run first inning, capitalizing on HRV errors and wild pitches. After Pendleton went on a four-run tear in the bottom of the fifth, the game ended due to the 10-run mercy rule.

“During the first game, we had the Pendleton jitters and got knocked off our game,” Keller admitted. “Pendleton hit the ball well and we struggled to regain momentum.”

The Bucks outhit HRV 14-3, with HRV’s only hits coming from Lauren Decker (1-for-3, single), Zoe Munn (1-for-3, single), and Makenzie Chambers (1-for-2, single, stolen base). Hannah McNerney (stolen base) and Munn scored on errors in the second and fourth innings, respectively, for HRV’s only runs of the game.

Pendleton’s batters confounded McNerney in the circle, who gave up 14 hits, eight runs, and two walks in five innings of work. She struck out three.

HRV 9 at Pendleton 8

With the “Pendleton jitters” out of the way, a determined HRV squad turned around in Game 2 and gave the Bucks a dose of their own medicine, answering with a five-run first inning of their own to grab an early lead, and taking advantage of Pendleton mistakes — Decker (2-for-5, singles, stolen base) scored on a bases-loaded walk of Chambers (RBI), who then scored on an error. The Eagles never trailed in their second outing.

Though Pendleton was able to outhit HRV again (14-9), the Eagles did a better job of making the most of their opportunities with some big at bats, including Kaylin Winans, who hit a two-out, three-run home run in the top of the second to give HRV an 8-2 lead. It was her second homer of the week, and Winans finished the day 2-for-4 with a single and a team-high five RBIs. She was also the starting pitcher, giving up seven hits and five earned runs in her three-inning shift.

“Kaylin had a great game during Game 2. A two-strike home run was huge to extend the lead. She was strong at the plate the entire game and gave us three strong innings in the circle,” Keller said.

The Bucks weren’t pushovers, though, and responded with a three-run homer hit by Rylee Gentner in the bottom of the second to pull to 8-5, then a two-run homer by Kila Solomon to pull within one in the bottom of the fourth. After a quiet couple of innings, the Bucks scored on a single in the bottom of the sixth to tie up the game for the first time since the opening minutes.

Desperate to recoup the early-inning offensive prowess, the Eagles put all their efforts into making sure Makena Zeller (3-for-4, singles, double, RBI) got home, who reached second on a line drive to left, then to third on a sacrifice bunt delivered by Lizzy Weekly (1-for-2, double). With two outs showing, Zeller made it to the plate after the Bucks committed a costly error on a ground ball hit by Haylee Baker.

McNerney, who took over pitching duties from Winans in the fourth inning, was able to stamp out a last-minute Bucks rally in the bottom of the seventh. She was credited with a save and struck out an impressive eight batters. The Bucks managed seven hits and three runs (all earned) off of McNerney.

The Eagles hosted a rematch with the Bucks late Tuesday afternoon (results not available at press time), then go back on the road this Saturday with a noon doubleheader in The Dalles (3-14, 2-3).

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