With second place in the Columbia River Conference secured last week by HRV softball in its 11-1 victory over Hermiston, the Eagles had nothing to play for besides something to prove on Tuesday, May 8 against the conference undefeated Pendleton Buckaroos.
The Eagles headed into this game 0-3 on the season versus Pendleton and were looking to avoid a sweep.
In the previous three matchups, Pendleton outscored the Eagles 21-13 — Pendleton’s closest point-margin versus any conference opponent this season.
In the final game of the series between two of the state’s top softball programs, HRV put Pendleton’s 21-game winning streak in jeopardy. The Eagles struck first, scoring two runs in the third inning to take a 2-0 lead.
But a two-run inning in the fifth and a walk-off single in the seventh by Pendleton would give the Buckaroos a 3-2 win to sweep the season series versus HRV.
The loss moves the Eagles to 6-5 in conference play, 18-5 overall record and an OSAA state rank of five.
The win for Pendleton extends its winning streak to 22 as they move to 11-0 in conference play, 23-1 overall record and remain the number one ranked team in 5A OSAA state standings.
On the mound for HRV was win leader Hannah McNerney.
McNerney started off strong, striking out three Pendleton batters in the first two innings.
After scoreless innings in the first and second, the Eagles’ bats in the top of the third inning put Pendleton in an unfamiliar scenario.
Emilie Ellifritz started the top of the third inning with a single to third base.
Back-to-back outs followed the leadoff single, but Ellifritz was able to make her way to third during those outs after a fast ball and a sacrifice bunt.
With two outs and a runner on third, Pendleton intentionally walked Haylee Baker, bringing up Lauren Decker.
Decker would take a first pitch ball and then Baker would steal second, putting runners at third and second for HRV.
With a favorable 2-0 count for Decker, she hit a line drive single to left field on the third pitch bringing in both baserunners; HRV 2-0.
Zoe Munn followed Decker’s two-run double with a walk, bringing up McNerney, who flew out to center for the third out the inning.
For the first time since April 24, when HRV had a 5-4 lead over Pendleton in their third matchup of the season, the Buckaroos were down heading into an inning.
McNerney held off the Buckaroos’ bats scoreless in the third and fourth innings, including a three-and-out inning in the fourth.
However, in the bottom of the fifth, Pendleton would get on the scoreboard.
After back-to-back walks by McNerney, Pendleton hit back-to-back singles to drive in two runs to tie this game at two with two innings remaining.
Offensively, the Eagles weren’t able to find any kind of groove after its two-run third inning, going through only four batters in the fourth and then three-and-out in the fifth.
It seemed, however, that the girls would respond in the top of the sixth after a double by McNerney with only one out on the scoreboard.
But a Kaylin Winans ground out to third would hold up McNerney at second and give HRV its second out of the inning.
Makenzie Chambers was hit by a pitch in the following at bat to put runners on first and second for Ellifritz with two outs.
Ellifritz, who hit a single to begin the two-run third inning for HRV earlier in the game, was unable to bring in a run as she struck out swinging to end the inning.
The bottom of the sixth started off with a single for Pendleton, but McNerney would get three-straight outs, including a strikeout for the final out of the inning, to go into the seventh tied at 2-2.
HRV was unable to even scare the Buckaroos in the top of the seventh as the girls went three-up and three-down.
The only hope now for HRV to get back into this game was to force extra innings, but they’d have to get through the bottom half of the seventh to do that.
McNerney opened the inning with back-to-back strikeouts.
With one out remaining to force extra innings, the third batter of the inning hit a ground ball to McNerney that was recorded as an error for McNerney, advancing the Pendleton batter to first.
In the following at bat, Pendleton hit a single to right field, putting a runner in scoring position and at first base.
With the pressure on, but still only one out away from heading into extra innings, McNerney gave up a walk-off single to left field that brought in the game-winning run; Pendleton 3-2.
For the second time this season, HRV lost to Pendleton by a walk-off; the first time came off a three-run walk-off home run on April 24 in Pendleton.
McNerney took the loss for the Eagles. She allowed six hits and three runs over six and two-thirds innings, striking out eight.
Decker led the Eagles offensively with a two-run RBI in the third inning, McNerney and Ellifritz were the only other HRV athletes to collect hits versus Pendleton.
The final conference game of the season for HRV comes on the road in The Dalles on Friday, May 11 (results unavailable at press time).