EUGENE — All season, the Henley softball team refused to make the “No. 1” hand gesture.
Even when the Hornets clinched a a Skyline Conference title they didn’t do it. It was a moment to be saved for when the team reached its ultimate a goal — a state title.
That moment never came. Henley fell just short of its goal, losing 4-2 in the state title game to La Grande for the second straight season.
“We put up a fight the whole time,” said Kaila Mick. “They are a really good team, obviously scored more runs than we did, but we battled until the very end. I’m just really proud of this team.”
The game pitted the two top teams with the state’s two top pitchers against one another.
Early on La Grande’s Allie Brock had the upper hand, through the first three innings, the junior struck out seven Henley batters and didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning.
“It was velocity that we hadn’t seen before,” Kaila Mick said. “Her ball moved well. We told everyone to get their foot down early, she’s not superhuman, she’s going to miss sometimes and hit her mistakes.”
Brock finished her a complete game with 12 strike outs. It was with two outs that she did the most damage, giving up zero hits and only issuing two walks.
“You have to give a kid like that credit,” said Henley head coach Bobby Mick. “She throws with velocity and spins the ball and located well. She made big pitches when she needed to and there’s a reason she’s had them in this game the past two years.”
Carli Moore finally broke the hitless drought in the fourth inning with an infield single.
The Hornets would finally put a run on the board in the sixth inning when Beth Hamilton, Paige Barnett, Mick and Maddie Perez all drew walks, but the big hit, game-tilting hit would never come for Henley.
The sixth inning, already with a run in, loaded the bases with no one out. A ball hit to the gap could have tied the game, but Brock sat down the heart of the Hornet lineup in order to end what would prove to be the scoring threat for Henley.
The tip four hitters of the line up went 0-for-10 with seven strike outs and six walks.
“That was our opportunity, that’s what you want to have,” said Bobby Mick. “It’s a game of inches, hitting a ball with a bat, you miss by a fraction of an inch and that’s the difference between a bases-clearing double and a pop up, that’s how fine the line is.”
While Brock rolled early and struggled late, the opposite happened to Henley’s Lilly Poe. In the first inning she hit two batters, walked another a gave up a single, but gave up minimal damage allowing just one run.
The stage of the state championship can be daunting, even for a seasoned vet like Poe making her third start in the title game.
“The first half was just nerves,” the senior said. “I felt fine before the game, but when I got into the circle I was nervous. It’s a different atmosphere and I don’t know how to explain it. You get nervous out there.”
In the third inning Poe gave up three consecutive hits before a double-play opportunity to end the inning was booted by an error by third baseman Kylie Melsness. La Grande would score two more runs after the error.
From the fourth inning on, Poe allowed just four more base runners after pitching in the first three innings seemingly the whole time with the bases loaded.
“She battled back after that third inning she buckled down and kept us in it, that’s why we had that opportunity (in the sixth inning) if she didn’t keep pitching, changing speeds and getting out of those situations that came could have easily been blown open, but she didn’t let them,” coach Mick said.
“There is no disappointment for us,” Mick said. “We played on the last day of the season at one of the best facilities in the country with a group of kids that we love and a group of kids that love each other and they gave it everything they had.
“There is no way they could disappoint coming into today.”