With a pair of weekend wins over Pendleton at home, the Hood River Valley High School’s Girls Softball team secured its No. 2 OSAA rank in 5A, and all it took were two stellar pitching performances by the same athlete, some incredible defensive plays and a walk off.
The first game lasted little more than an hour. Each inning was quick, with pitchers for both Pendleton and Hood River either shutting down batters at the plate, or each team’s defense quelling any attempts to score. The first four innings were scoreless, with senior Lauren Decker dominating for the Eagles and freshman Sauren Garton doing the same for Pendleton. The two were in a classic pitchers’ duel, throwing fastballs that swept past hitters and off-speed pitches that left them looking.
“The opposing pitcher was throwing hard and hitting her spots,” said coach Eric Keller. “She got us with a great changeup early on, which we had to adjust to.”
Hood River proved more successful at the plate, racking up eight hits to Pendleton’s one and scoring the only runs in the game. A single by sophomore Molly Routson started things off in the fifth. Sophomore Morgan Baker lined out on a shot to center, but senior Haylee Baker laid a soft bunt down the third base line to advance Routson and reach first base with a burst of speed. Decker followed with a bunt of her own, advancing the runners and beating out the throw to get herself on base. The Eagles had bases loaded with one out when junior Makenzie Chambers hit a groundball which forced an out at home. It seemed the rally, like those in the past innings, would be stopped yet again. Then, junior Aunika Yasui hit a scorching ground ball past the second baseman. Baker scored, Decker scored and the Eagles were on top.
It was all they would get but it was all they would need. With Decker on the mound and HRV’s defense in top tier shape despite the four errors made early on, the Eagles held out Pendleton for the first game win. A couple of plays highlighted the defensive effort of Hood River. The first came in the top of the fifth when Chambers, playing catcher, caught a pitch from Decker and fired the ball to Morgan Baker at second base to pick off a leading Pendleton runner. It was a bold move executed to perfection; Baker caught the throw and applied the tag in a single motion, catching the runner by a step to end the inning. The second great play came in the top of the seventh, when a low line drive had Haylee Baker charging in from centerfield and making a last-second slide to make the catch.
It took those kind of plays and some small-ball tactics on offense to win against a team like Pendleton, as Keller explained.
“As we are playing stellar defense struggling at the plate, then it turns into small ball and having to get runs across the plate any way we can,” said Keller. “They’re the number four ranked team in the state. They’re legit, they’re going to bring their game. It was a complete ball game that we had to play and we knew it.”
The second game was livelier, with the offenses of both teams breaking open. Hood River managed a run in the first but were swamped by Pendleton’s five runs in the second. They bounced back with another run of their own and three in the third to tie the game. It would remain tied for the next four innings, with Decker and Pendleton sophomore Kylie Parsons regaining their control of the game. The seventh inning came and went with a tie still in place, so into extra innings this game went.
Pendleton got runners on second and third in the top of the eighth, forcing Decker to intentionally walk the next batter. The bases were loaded, two outs recorded and Decker managed to get the next hitter to fly out to end the inning. The stage was set for the Eagles to take the win, and they jumped at the opportunity. Routson doubled to start, followed by Morgan Baker with a single to center. Haylee Baker was intentionally walked to load the bases with zero outs. Decker lined out and Chambers came through with a hard hit ground ball to the shortstop, who couldn’t throw home in time to catch Routson. The Eagles capped off their doubleheader in walk-off fashion, and celebrated accordingly.
Decker earned the win in both games after throwing 15 consecutive innings and 223 pitches. She gave up nine hits, four walks and five runs total, while striking out 17. Following this weekend, she improves to 13-6 on the year and boasts a 1.9 ERA.
Decker and Chambers led the offense for the Eagles, amassing eight hits between them through both games. Hood River hosted Crook County on Tuesday and will travel to Redmond for their final doubleheader of the season on Friday.