Oregon City's Lily Riley struck out 220 in 135 1/3 innings last season, posting a 0.93 ERA. (Photo by Fanta Mithmeuangneua)
Oregon City's Lily Riley struck out 220 in 135 1/3 innings last season, posting a 0.93 ERA. (Photo by Fanta Mithmeuangneua)

No team has come closer to reaching the golden ring, only to have it vanish from sight, than Oregon City softball the last two seasons.

In 2022, the Pioneers took Tigard to 10 innings in the 6A final before falling 1-0. Last year, pitcher Lily Riley threw a no-hitter against Sheldon in the state championship game, but lost 1-0 when she was called for obstruction at third base in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Oregon City took solace in the defeats in knowing that many of them would get another crack at a state title. This season – with six players who started in the last two state finals, including their longtime ace in Riley – the senior-led Pioneers know the clock is ticking.

They are counting on their experience to carry them as they continue pursuing Oregon City's first state championship.

“I think I've learned really valuable lessons from both of those games because both of them were so different, how they ended,” Riley said. “The first championship game, we realized we can battle and compete for many, many innings. Even though we didn't come out with the win, it just showed how strong of a team we are.

“I think last year just proved to us that we're good enough, and we just have to be ready to play.”

Coach Mackenzie Washington senses the hunger in her players.

“I think there's an underlying tone of determination that's not going to go away,” Washtington said. “They've tasted it, they know what it takes to get there, and they're determined to get there again.”

Oregon City, which opens the season Tuesday at Glencoe, is ranked No. 2 in the OSAAtoday preseason 6A coaches poll behind reigning champion Sheldon. Expectations are high, but Washington is making a pointed effort to relieve some of the pressure.

“I will flat out say that last year wasn't that fun for us,” Washington said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and didn't really get to enjoy the game or playing with each other.

“So there's a little bit more focus this year on enjoying the ride. If we do that, and do everything like we should, everything should fall into place, and we'll get back there without the added pressure that comes with it.”

Despite all they have accomplished the last two seasons, Riley said “there's not a lot of pressure” on the Pioneers this year.

“I think we've proven in the past that we're a good enough team, so I think that pressure is off this year, and we're just kind of here to have fun and just enjoy ourselves,” Riley said.

Riley, who has signed with Utah Valley University, was a 6A first-team selection last season. In 135 1/3 innings last season, the right-hander gave up 67 hits, struck out 220 and walked 30, posting an ERA of 0.93.

In the last two state finals, Riley has thrown 15 1/3 innings, allowed three hits, struck out 23, walked one and given up zero earned runs – only to take two losses.

“It's really hard to explain to a kid, you throw the first no-hitter in a state championship and still walk out with a loss,” Washington said. “But for Lily, it's never been about the personal accolades.

“It's truly for the team this year. She knows that if she puts her heart out there, so will her teammates. Together, hopefully they can pull it together and do it.”

Washington said Riley walked on the practice field this year as a true leader.

“She told everybody, 'We're not going to settle just because we've done it. We're still going to strive for it,'” Washington said. “This senior class, not just Lily, there's accountability that they're holding each other to. From Day 1, they wanted to be right where they were when they left, and not start over.”

Oregon City has six starters back in Riley, senior left fielder Ally Pagel, junior right fielder Ellie Joseph, senior center fielder Chloe Grimmer, junior third baseman Chloe Stromme and senior catcher Reese Gardner.

The Pioneers must rebuild the top of their batting order after graduating their 2-3-4 hitters in first baseman Lily Castor, shortstop Gina Allen and second baseman Allyson Nordling, a 6A first-team pick who hit eight of the team's 12 home runs last season.

“I expect more consistency and base hits this year rather than a true power lineup,” Washington said.

Pagel will continue to bat lead off, with sophomore Caiden Grimmer, freshman Rylie Bugni, Chloe Stromme (.422, 26 RBIs last season) and Chloe Grimmer filling other spots near the top of the order.

On defense, Caiden Grimmer will fill the hole at shortstop and either Bugni or senior Sam Marsh will take over at second base.

“Those were definitely big losses, so we do have some holes in the lineup, which is unfortunate,” Riley said. “But I feel like there's a lot of, especially seniors, that will step up and fill those positions in the way they were filled last year.”