HOOD RIVER — A three-run sixth inning triggered by a bizarre event gave Hood River Valley’s sixth-ranked 5A softball team a 5-2 victory over No. 4 Dallas Thursday afternoon — and the successful gut check Eagles coach Eric Keller was looking for.
It was an impressive, but unlikely, early-season matchup of two consistent 5A heavyweights. Both teams made it to the state playoffs last year and have similar capabilities.
But Dallas plays predominantly up and down the Willamette Valley in the ferocious Mid-Willamette Conference; the Eagles play their league ball on the other side of the Cascades in the Intermountain Conference, where defending state champion Pendleton lurks.
But when Dragons coach Brandi Jackson came up short of games and saw that the Eagles had an opening on this particular day, she was willing to take the two-hour bus trip up to take advantage of a perfect Columbia Gorge day for the game.
She might have won it, too, except for a strange turn of events in the sixth.
The two teams entered the frame tied at 2-2. The Eagles, 6-2, got their pair from Makenzie Chambers. The junior catcher smashed a monster home run over the scoreboard in left-center field in the bottom of the first, then plated teammate Haylee Baker from third with a hard-hit sacrifice fly to center field.
The Dragons, 5-3, retaliated with two unearned runs in the top of the fourth on Madelyn Loughary’s leadoff triple and a pair of Eagle infield errors.
It was a good time for the Eagles — or any other team — to hang their heads.
“We’ve been working on dealing with failure,” Keller said. “When we had those two unearned runs, it was important for us to come back from it.”
In the bottom of the sixth, they did so when the heart of their offensive order came to bat. Winning pitcher and second hitter Lauren Decker, who went the entire way for HRV, opened with a sharp single up the middle off Dragons senior Kaelynn Simmons.
Chambers followed with her third productive at-bat of the day, smacking a single to right field that sent Decker to third. She took second on the throw.
Then came the strange stuff.
Lizzie Weekly dropped a perfect bunt in front of the plate, but when she dropped her bat it rolled out onto the field of play and hit the ball. That calls for the batter to be out and the runners to return to their bases.
But neither umpire saw it happen, so the ball was live. Dragon first baseman Madison Friesen was charging on the play, but the backup infielder covering her bag was late in getting there, and the throw went into right field.
Two runs scored and Jackson was out protesting immediately. Neither official could confirm the play, so it stood.
After the game Jackson was philosophical — even charitable — about the turn of events.
“I told the girls that umpires are part of the game, too,” she said. “It happens. We had plenty of other opportunities to score and win. It’s all part of the game”
It might have been a moot point anyhow. The next hitter, left-handed hitting third baseman Aunika Yasui went the opposite way with a double that scored the pinch runner for Weekly and accounted for the final score.
Even if Weekly had been called out, then, Yasui’s smash would have scored both runners.
Chambers was the offensive star of the show. She had four home runs last year, and now has three in the current young season. Everything she got her bat on against the clever Simmons was hit hard.
Especially the home run, which was hit high and deep and was out of here the instant it hits the barrel of her bat.
“I just wanted the ball to come to me,” she said. “I was looking for an outside pitch, but since I’m a catcher I can sometimes tell where the ball is going to be.
“It felt amazing.”
So did the win. Getting good competition at any time of the season is a good thing, Keller reasoned.
“When we had holes in the schedule,” he said, “she e-mailed me. I knew we had a chance to play good team.”
Jackson saw it the same way.
“I knew he had a good program,” she said. “I’ll never be the kind of coach to take the easy way. We play 6A teams down in Medford on our breaks. I’d much rather play up when I can.”
Hood River Valley still has three non-leaguers before it opens its run at the IMC with a home double-header against Ridgeview April 12. The Dragons play a nonleague game Friday against visiting Sprague.