The Hood River Valley Softball team lost its quarterfinal playoff game 5-3 against Dallas High School on May 24 at home. The loss ended the Eagles season and was an upset defeat, as they were ranked No. 2 in the state, while Dallas was ranked No. 7.
It was a rather unproductive, albeit lively, game early on between both teams. Dallas came out swinging in the first inning and put runners in scoring position, but senior Lauren Decker pitched three straight outs and quelled the rally. Hood River responded with a couple of singles of their own but were ultimately kept off the scoreboard. The second inning was similar; neither team scored. In the third inning, Dallas got a runner to second off a single and a groundout. They scored the run the following play when a ground ball got by sophomore Morgan Baker at second base. Dallas returned in the fourth with another run, this time off a couple of singles, and still Hood River could not answer. Typically, being down 2-0 would mean nothing to these Eagles — they averaged nine runs per game throughout the season. Yet, that Friday afternoon, the tension was palpable, with two clear outcomes looming: Either Dallas was going to blow the game open, or Hood River was going to make a comeback.
It was the latter. The Eagles came out firing on all cylinders in the bottom of the fifth. Morgan Baker started things off with a single to right field, followed by her sister, senior Haylee Baker, who drove a pitch to center. The Bakers advanced to second and third on the play, and with no outs, HRV was primed to tie the game. Decker came to bat and managed to reach first and score Morgan Baker on a weak groundball to third base. The Eagles were on the board and still threatening. They needed a stroke of luck, something that had eluded them thus far. Junior Makenzie Chambers hit a routine pop fly in the infield that was bobbled by the third baseman, allowing her to reach first and load the bases. Lucky indeed. A pair of strikeouts followed, however, and hope began to dwindle before sophomore Molly Routson hit a sharp liner to centerfield, scoring Haylee Baker and Decker to put the Eagles up 3-2. It was all they would get, but it was enough at the time.
Dallas would score in the sixth, Hood River would load the bases but fail to score in their half of the inning, and Dallas would put two more runs on the board in the seventh inning. The Eagles managed to put a runner on base but were unable to score, and so lost.
There’s the summary. Statistically, the Eagles accumulated seven hits, with Morgan Baker and Routson leading the team with two each. Decker had five strikeouts and was credited with giving up two earned runs on eight hits and one walk. Hood River committed four errors in the game.
“It was a playoff game: Intense, back and forth, and at points both teams could win,” said head coach Eric Keller. “We put ourselves in a position to win late in the game, but were not able to finish.”
I’ve been a sports reporter for little more than six months now. My experience with sports goes back to age three, when I began (trying) to play basketball, baseball, soccer, anything and everything. Through the years, whether as a player, a coach, a fan or a reporter, you realize the impact that sports have on people; with the success and defeats come an emotional array that is truly unparalleled. In victory, the elation is indefinable; in defeat, the heartbreak is seemingly unbearable.
It’s easy, from the sidelines, to pick apart a game and point to places where a team could have done better, where they could have won the game. Analysts do so all the time — highlighting key plays, game-changing moments, momentum shifters, etc. Pouring through the game stats and reviewing play after play, it’s tempting to simply make a call out and let that be the final word. For the players, it’s almost impossible not to reflect on your performance and blame yourself for every little mistake as though the entirety of the outcome was decided solely by you. The passed ball, the strikeout, the double play you caused, and every play in between. Awash in the waters of defeat, the mind sets sail towards all that went wrong.
Which is why it’s important to remember that so much went right. This team won 21 games. This team climbed to the No. 2 ranking in the state. This team is sending athletes on to play college ball, and bringing back a majority of battle-hardened players ready to set out in the 2020 season with fresh fire in their veins. This team dominated its opponents, racking up runs and keeping other teams silent on the scoreboard. This team ran down fly balls, tore up the base paths, smashed home runs and struck out hitter after hitter in a season effort to become the best. Sure, they fell short. There won’t be a rematch with Ridgeview, no grand championship game, and there’s nothing that can be written to change that. Eric Keller can sum it up pretty well though.
“If you would have told me this was the outcome in January, I would have signed up,” said Keller. “It was a positive and energizing season. We were able to find success as a result of being able to play for each other and sacrifice for each other. This was such a positive and enjoyable season.”