As of Tuesday, May 23, 2017
‘It’s great. The amount of work these girls put in is a sign of their success and their abilities to be great.’
For the first time since 2014, the HRV softball team (No. 6, 17-10) has made it into the 5A state tournament, qualifying Friday evening after edging the Northwest Oregon Conference’s Milwaukie Mustangs (No. 20, 11-15), 1-0, during a play-in game at the Ballpark at Belmont in Hood River.
A tough Columbia River Conference has held HRV back the past couple years, including the 2016 season, where even a No. 14 state ranking wasn’t enough for the Eagles to qualify for a play-in game. But this year, the Eagles came within a game of dethroning the perennial CRC champions, Pendleton, for the title; stayed in the top 10 teams for nearly the entire season; and most importantly, beat Milwaukie to qualify for the 16-team state tournament. HRV last qualified for a play-in game in 2015, where they again played Milwaukie, but were on the other end of a shutout, losing 5-0.
“It’s great. The amount of work these girls put in is a sign of their success and their abilities to be great,” said HRV Head Coach Eric Keller. “It’s kind of a status symbol, so for them to be able to achieve this status and be a part of the great teams of the past — it’s huge for these girls.”
It was a defensive battle that saw only five hits spread across the two teams, with four of those going to HRV. After stranding runners on third base in two separate innings with no runs to show for those efforts, in the bottom of the fourth with two outs, senior Makena Zeller doubled on a fly ball to right field, plating Lorena Johnson for the only run of the game. The only other hits of the night for HRV came on a single from Lauren Decker, and a single and a double by Zoe Munn.
“It feels really good this year, especially because I’ve been playing with these girls my whole life,” Zeller said of qualifying for the tournament. “This year, we have a lot of potential, so I think we’re going to go far.”
The team could not have done it, nor could have gotten this far this season, without the impeccable pitching of Hannah McNerney. The junior once again had a large impact on the outcome of the game, tossing a one-hitter and walking two while striking out 13 batters in seven innings. The Mustangs, who never successfully advanced past second base, were further stymied by the mistake-free play of the HRV defense, who had a perfect fielding percentage on 29 total chances.
“It was a great defensive effort,” Keller remarked. “Hannah has been our cornerstone for quite a while now and we put it on her shoulders and were able to scratch a run across and just let Hannah do her work.”
Zeller agreed, lauding her teammate’s efforts on the mound this season.
“Hannah’s really awesome,” she added. “She’s been carrying the team a lot throughout the games and she definitely helps us out a lot and we’re thankful she pulls us through some of those innings.”
Though McNerney has more often than not come through for the Eagles, Keller stressed the need for his team to ramp up the runs on offense after the lackluster production against Milwaukie.
“We’ve got to hit the ball better. We’ve got to produce offensively. From here on out, we’re going to see quality pitching… we’ve got to go out there, own the plate, and produce offensively,” he said.
HRV will host the No. 11 La Salle Falcons (17-10) of the Northwest Oregon Conference Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. The two teams have not played each other this season, but do have multiple shared opponents in Sandy, Bend, Mountain View, and Wilsonville. HRV played each of those teams once during the regular season and only lost to Mountain View. La Salle had nine games spread out over those four teams, losing once to Milwaukie and once to Bend. The Falcons have scored 173 runs and allowed 106 this season; HRV has scored 161 and allowed 105. Winner of Wednesday’s game will face either No. 14 Corvallis or No. 3 Pendleton in the quarterfinal.
HRV and Pendleton are also joined by Hermiston in the tournament. The No. 15 Bulldogs, who are also on HRV and Pendleton’s side of the 5A state tournament bracket, advanced after a 5-3 road win over Hillsboro in a play-in game Friday evening. They play No. 2 Marist Catholic in the first round Wednesday.