CLATSKANIE — In a matchup between two squads hoping to reach the championship game for the first time ever, it was the Clatskanie Tigers who accomplished that goal with a 10-4 win over the South Umpqua Lancers in the OSAA Class 3A softball semifinals on Tuesday at Clatskanie High School.
The fourth-seeded Lancers (22-6) certainly seemed to be focused on getting a win early in the contest, taking a first inning lead. But No. 1 Clatskanie (26-0) would take the lead in the third inning, then scored seven runs in its final two at-bats to put away the Far West League champions.
South Umpqua senior pitcher and leadoff hitter Tayah Kelley helped provide the Lancers with the early momentum, hammering a solo homer over the 230-foot left field fence to put the Lancers up.
“It felt good to see us come out and have a had a really good start and it seemed early in the game that we were all very well focused on hopefully getting a win,” said Kelley, the FWL player of the year. “I think my home run helped us start a rally and it felt like a good way to start the game. We just got outhit today. They (Tigers) are a very good team and they really hit well.”
Clatskanie finished with 17 hits off Kelley, who struck out seven and walked one. Five of the runs were earned.
The Lancers’ momentum continued in the bottom half of the first as they demonstrated their strong defense. Senior first baseman Lana Skeen caught a Shelby Blodgett line drive and then tagged out Olivia Sprague, who was unable to get back to first base.
The two squads then both played solid defense in a scoreless second frame.
The undefeated Tigers then displayed their potent top-ranked offense (10.8 runs per game), scoring three times in the third to go ahead 3-1.
South Umpqua, guided by eighth-year coach Joelle McGrorty, responded in the fourth with a rally. Senior third baseman Kalie Mann (1-for-4) smashed a high flyball to left field for a one-out double. Junior shortstop Shalyn Gray (2-for-4), then drove Mann home with an RBI triple as the Lancers trimmed the margin to 3-2.
“(The Tigers) are a very good team and we knew that we just had to come out and do the right things, but they just outhit us (17-8) and that’s how the game goes,” McGrorty said. “I’m still really proud of the girls for working so hard all season. We always try to set the tone of the game in our favor and Tayah did a great job in helping us get the early momentum.”
Clatskanie answered with a rally — aided by two Lancer errors — to extend its lead. Blodgett, a sophomore pitcher, walloped a grand slam home run over the left field fence, giving the Tigers an 8-2 advantage.
South Umpqua continued to battle. Skeen hit a leadoff single and two batters later she scored on senior Aneykah McCall’s groundout. The Lancers were down 8-3 after five.
The Lancers demonstrated their resilience, getting within striking distance in the sixth. Gray connected for a leadoff double that bounced off the left field fence. Two batters later, Gray scored on sophomore Amelia Ferguson’s single, making it 8-4.
“It was really fun coming out here on Monday and staying overnight and having a good time with everyone, because we’re all just kind of like sisters to each other,” Gray said. “We’re like one big family and we all played our hearts out today. I honestly felt like we would be able to come back and get the win.
“We were playing with a high level of confidence in the beginning of the game. When Tayah hit the homer, I really felt like we had a good chance to win. Going to the semifinals was really an exciting accomplishment for our team.”
Again, it was the hard-hitting Tigers who responded to the challenge as they scored two runs in the bottom of the inning. S.U. was shut out in the seventh to end the game.
Maris Jackson (4-for-4), Blodgett (3-for-4), Sprague (3-for-3) and Trinity Hamm (3-for-4) had big offensive games for Clatskanie.
The contest marked the final game of their South Umpqua careers for five seniors: Kelley, Mann, Skeen, McCall and Aaliyah Rudy.
“We would’ve loved to reach the finals rather than end the season in the semifinals, but that’s how things worked out and I’m still very proud of the girls, because we had a very good season,” McGrorty said. “The five seniors helped us have a fabulous season and they were great team leaders for us all year. We’re really going to miss them and there’s really going to be some big shoes to fill.”
Clatskanie, the Special District 1 Champion, will meet No. 2 Dayton (19-5) in Friday’s championship game at the University of Oregon’s Jane Sanders Stadium.
“It was an amazing season and I’m so thankful to be on a team with such an incredible group of girls and I just wish I could be with them for one more year,” Kelley said. “It was really nice to win the player of the year award, but I couldn’t have won that without all the help from my teammates. We were definitely hoping to go to the championship game, but still had an outstanding season.”
S. Umpqua 100 111 0 — 4 8 4
Clatskanie 003 052 x — 10 17 2
Kelley and Rudy; Blodgett and Hamm. WP — Blodgett. LP — Kelley. 2B — Mann (SU), Gray (SU), Smith (C), Blodgett (C), Harrison (C). 3B — Gray (SU), Hamm (C). HR — Kelley (SU), Blodgett (C).