Down 3-0 with its season on the line, the Henley softball team seemed to be in trouble.
The defending OSAA Class 4A state champions rallied to pull off a gutsy, 6-3 win over South Umpqua Tuesday to advance to the state championship game for the second straight year.
“It feels as good as it can feel,” Henley junior shortstop Kaila Mick said.
“It was exactly how you would picture a semifinal game. It wasn’t easy; it went up and down,” Mick said. “But we came back and did what we were supposed to do – we won.”
Henley has now played South Umpqua three times this season.
In the first two games, the Hornets outscored the Lancers, 18-1.
This game was different.
Henley struggled in the first inning.
Henley junior Lilly Poe struck out the first batter, but an error allowed the second batter to get on base.
Poe struck out the next batter, but South Umpqua’s clean-up hitter, Kalie Mann, connected for a two-run home run over the left center field fence.
Poe struck out the next batter to keep the score, 2-0.
The Hornets got one on base via a walk, but couldn’t get their bats going, leaving them scoreless going into the second.
South Umpqua started the inning with three hits, giving it all the momentum and another run.
But Poe locked in to strike out two consecutive Lancers, leaving two runners on base to enter the bottom of the inning down, 3-0.
South Umpqua pitcher Tayah Kelly continued to keep Henley’s hitters off balance early in the third.
But after two strike outs, Kelly began to crumble, walking Caitlyn Moore and then allowing a skillful hit by Alexis Virtue that moved Moore to third.
On the next at-bat, Poe came through for Henley, pounding an RBI single to right field to put Henley down, 3-1 going into the third.
Poe opened the third by striking out two, including Mann, and then forcing a pop-out fly by the third batter.
Kelly retired the first two for Henley, but Henley didn’t give up.
With two outs, freshman catcher Maddie Perez made the biggest play of her young career when she smashed a solo home run over the left field fence.
Fellow freshman Carli Moore stepped up to the plate next, and like Perez, she came through, driving a line drive home run off the top of the centerfield fence and out of the park.
The two freshmen had evened the score at, 3-3.
“That’s why they’re here. They earned their spot, and they just proved themselves even more than they already have,” Mick said.
“It feels good,” Perez said. “Right after that, everyone started hitting, and that’s how we won.”
Poe and Henley blanked the Lancers in the fourth.
Then, with two outs and one on, Mick made the play of the game, smacking a two-run single to give the Hornets their first lead, 5-3. Mick’s hit sparked an error at center field, which continued to trail into the fence and allowed her to score.
It would go down as the game-winning hit.
“We knew three runs wasn’t going to win the game,” Mick said. “We knew it was going to be more than that, so we just kept chipping away.”
Another strong inning for Poe kept the score unchanged in the top of the fifth.
Henley would go scoreless in the fifth but would tack on another run in the sixth.
Poe closed the game with her 10th strike out of the game to pick up the win on the mound.
Poe and the Henley defense kept the Lancers scoreless in the final five innings.
Mick, Jessica Northcutt and Poe all had two hits apiece.
“It wasn’t our one, two, three and four hitters doing all the work,” Mick said. “Everybody contributed; it was a team effort for sure.”
Henley will face La Grande in the state championship game Saturday at the Oregon State University softball complex in Corvallis. The time will be announced likely today by the OSAA.
“We’re going to have fun,” Moore said. “We play a lot better when we just have fun.”
“We’re not going to let ourselves down,” Mick said. “We’ve proved ourselves this year, and all we have to do is win one more.”
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