PORTLAND – With the top of the lineup making hard-luck outs, the bottom of the order provided the spark Jesuit needed against visiting Forest Grove on Monday in the first round of the 6A softball playoffs.
Of Jesuit's eight hits, seven came from the bottom four batters in the lineup. It was enough for the No. 9-seeded Crusaders to shake off an early deficit and beat the No. 24 Vikings 6-2.
“We're strong throughout lineup, so that says a lot,” said senior catcher Hannah Brink, the No. 8 batter. “When one of our players isn't hitting well like they usually do, the other players can pick them up. We can trust each other and have each other's backs.”
Jesuit's top five batters went 1 for 16, many of them line-drive outs. But Brink (2 for 3, RBI) and sophomores Tully Jensen (1 for 3), Mary Cunningham (3 for 3, double, RBI) and Lucia Regnier (1 for 2, RBI) delivered for Jesuit (22-5), which will play at No. 8 Newberg in a second-round game Wednesday.
Crusaders coach Jim Speciale was encouraged by what he saw from his offense, which struggled late in the season.
“We haven't hit the ball one through nine like I thought we would,” Speciale said. “I thought we'd kind of be murderers row. But tonight we actually made contact. The first four hitters hit the ball hard, so that was impressive to me because we haven't been doing that.”
Forest Grove (14-10) took a 2-0 lead, getting an RBI double from senior Hailey Yon in the first inning and an RBI single from sophomore Jacquelin Lang in the second inning off Jesuit senior pitcher Ainsley Davis.
But the Crusaders began to chip away. Brink hit an RBI single in the second inning off Forest Grove junior starter Rylie Arruda to make it 2-1, and Jesuit pushed across three runs off Yon in the fourth inning to take a 4-2 lead.
Jensen singled and Cunningham ripped an RBI double to make it 2-2. Brink singled and Regnier walked to load the bases for heavy-hitting senior Georgia Corey, who came through with a two-run single to take the lead.
The Columbia-bound Corey, who entered the game batting a team-high .429 with seven home runs, had made two hard-hit outs before the go-ahead single.
“We all knew she was going to hit it,” Brink said of Corey. “She comes through in moments like those. She's a clutch player.”
The Crusaders added two insurance runs in the fifth inning – one on an error, the other on a single by Regnier – and Davis held Forest Grove in check to seal the win. Davis allowed six hits, struck out four and walked three to pick up the win.
Forest Grove, which hasn't won a playoff game since 2013, stranded seven runners, six of them in scoring position.
“We had a lot of baserunners all game, we just couldn't find a timely hit when we needed it,” Vikings coach Jeremy Ingram said. “I'm proud of the effort we put in. They found a couple timely hits, and we didn't. I think that was the difference.”
Jesuit, which won the 6A title in 2016, moves into the second round for the seventh consecutive postseason. Considering No. 6 South Medford lost in the first round to No. 27 West Linn on Monday, Speciale was relieved to stay alive.
“I told the girls, 'The toughest thing is to get out of the first round,'” Speciale said. “I've said this all along, there's going to be a lot of upsets. And I just told my girls, 'I want to make sure it's not us.'”
Jesuit has won 11 of 12 since a four-game losing streak in the middle of the season. The last game of that streak was an 11-10 loss at Mountainside in which the Crusaders led 10-4 in the seventh inning.
They believe they have righted the ship.
“I think we've definitely picked it up, and we're getting to play as a well-oiled machine,” Brink said. “We got all the jitters out this game, so hopefully the next game, we're cleaning it up in the field.”
Said Corey: “Our coach has said it all year, we still haven't played our best softball yet. And we keep getting better every day at practice. I see it with these girls every day. They have so much hear, and we go out there every time ready to win.”