EUGENE – For the first four innings Tuesday, Cascade’s offense seemed to be under the spell of Marist Catholic senior star pitcher Malia Williams.
Williams – who had thrown a state-record 14 no-hitters this season, three in the playoffs – held the second-seeded Cougars hitless and struck out 10 as the top-seeded Spartans held a one-run lead.
But as the game unfolded, Cascade began to find its way. The Cougars scratched out eight hits in the last three innings, pushing across three runs, to beat Marist Catholic 3-2 in the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 4A softball final at the University of Oregon.
Sophomore Kailee Bode hit an infield single to drive in the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh inning for Cascade, which earned its first state championship since going back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.
“We were definitely the underdogs,” Cougars senior pitcher Hannah Walliman said. “People said we weren’t even going to score this game, she was going to throw a no-hitter against us. So we had a lot to prove. We wanted to prove everyone wrong.”
Williams, who has signed with Hawaii, shut out Cascade 3-0 in a nonleague game March 17. This time, though, the Cougars (25-4) were more disciplined at the plate.
“Once we started to get the hang of how she pitched, and her pitching habits, I think we really got on top of it,” said senior Crystal Campbell, who drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. “I think we got the hang of it a couple innings in. It’s a wicked riseball. I don’t blame anybody who tries swinging for it.”
Walliman said the Cougars were prepared for Williams’ riseball.
“That’s her go-to pitch,” Walliman said. “I think we were able to hold off enough on it to make her throw us something more in the zone. It’s the championship game, it’s a tight strike zone, so we knew that would help us out.”
Marist Catholic, the 4A Showcase champion last year, entered the game 7-0 in state finals, the last title coming in 2017. The Spartans appeared to be in control, too, when sophomore Kellie Schroffner hit an RBI single for a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning.
The way Williams was throwing, one run looked like it might be enough for Marist Catholic (25-4), which had not lost to a 4A team since 2019.
But Cascade answered in the fifth inning, loading the bases with no outs on a walk by Walliman and singles by freshman Malia Scanlan and senior Jaimy Bangert. Williams retired the next two batters before senior Emma Hilfiker delivered an RBI single to make it 1-1.
“We were just swinging too hard, trying to get our hands too fast,” Hilfiker said. “We just needed to shorten up and put the ball in play. Once one person got a hit, we were all like, ‘Oh, it’s doable.’ Then I think it just brought the confidence up for everybody else to do it, too.”
The Spartans regained a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Williams singled with two outs and scored on an error after a single by senior Myla Mahoney.
The Cougars kept coming in the sixth inning, though. Bode led off with a single and stole two bases – giving her a team-high 25 stolen bases for the season – and scored on Campbell’s sacrifice fly to make it 2-2.
Cascade took a 3-2 lead in the seventh. Senior Caylen Metcalf singled with one out and the pinch-runner, freshman Lexie Gidcumb, took second base on a wild pitch with two outs. Gidcumb moved to third base when Hilfiker singled to the pitcher and scored on Bode’s single to the shortstop.
“We just realized that we needed to relax and play the game,” said Bode, the Oregon West Conference player of the year. “It’s just another game, that’s all it is, and we just need to play.
“Nothing special, we didn’t need anything hard hit, we just needed to swing the bat. Once you make contact with it, it’s going to go no matter what, with how hard Malia pitches.”
Said Hilfiker: “I feel like their defense isn’t as solid as ours. They have a great pitcher, and I feel like nobody this year has been able to hit off her. I think putting the ball in play is something they haven’t seen much this season.”
Walliman set down Marist Catholic in order in the seventh inning to cue the celebration for the Cougars. Walliman pitched a six-hitter -- striking out six and walking two – against a lineup that entered batting .420 with 32 home runs.
“Just keep the ball away from them,” Walliman said. “We watched a lot of film and we found their weaknesses, and that’s what we were doing. We knew the top of their lineup was so good, so we had to get through the top of their lineup.”
The Cougars, with nine seniors on their roster, were determined to take advantage of their final shot at a title.
“We all just wanted it so bad,” Walliman said. “We’ve been working for this for eight years. So we weren’t giving up without a fight.”
Cascade drew inspiration from former Cascade player Hannah Ganfield, the team’s pitching coach last season, who is ill in the hospital. Ganfield is the daughter of Cascade athletic director Tim Ganfield, the coach for the Cougars’ title teams in 2010 and 2011.
“We played this game for her, and we played our semifinal game for her, because she was part of that 2012 team that lost in the championship game,” Walliman said. “So we wanted to do it for her.”
It was a tough ending to an outstanding season for Williams. She allowed eight hits, walked two and struck out 12, giving her 308 strikeouts in 144 innings this season.
Schroffner, the daughter of Marist Catholic coach Stefan Schroffner, lamented how her team was unable to find its offense against Walliman.
“It just took us a while to get our bats going,” she said. “We’ve seen her before, and I think we just kept getting in our heads. Super fun season, it’s just disappointing to finish like that.”