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Tigers to face off Dayton for 3A softball championship game

Clatskanie first baseman Kaity Sizemore completes an out at first base for the Tigers in their 10-4 Oregon 3A state semifinal softball game against South Umpqua on Tuesday in Clatskanie. The The Tigers will face Dayton in today's state championship game in Eugene.

It’s just another game for the Clatskanie softball team.

At least, that’s what they say.

After an undefeated regular season, a league title and three relatively easy playoff games, the Tigers head to Jane Sanders Stadium, the home of the Oregon Ducks, for the 3A softball championship game on Friday at 2 p.m. against an old nemesis: the Dayton Pirates.

“At the moment, I don’t have those overwhelming nerves,” sophomore shortstop Olivia Sprague said. “But I guess as soon as you step on that field you kinda get that, ‘Whoa, this is happening and I want to do this not just for myself, but everyone around me.’ But once you get that first ground ball, see it in the glove and let go of it, then you’re relaxed.”

Of Clatskanie’s 14 rostered softball players, five were on Clatskanie’s state champion girls basketball team, the first to win a girls basketball title and the first to win a team title at the school since 1945, and looks to add another championship banner just a few months later.

But the moment isn’t too big for them. Buoyed by a stellar class of sophomores, featuring the shortstop Olivia Sprague, the pitcher Shelby Blodgett, the second baseman Alexis Smith, first baseman Kaity Sizemore, third baseman Kami Harrison and left fielder Sammy Hummer, Clatskanie is as young as it is talented.

You would expect, then, that these moments would overwhelm such a young group.

But you’d be wrong.

It’s just another game, they say. It’s just another opponent, they say. It’s not the final destination that’s important to them. It’s the journey, the work, the time spent together.

Might be cheesy on paper, but it’s the truth. It helped them in March in Coos Bay, and it’s helped them this spring, and will help them on Friday.

“Winning’s fun, but we’re always taught (it’s about) the journey,” Olivia Sprague said. “As much fun as we have winning, we have just as much fun playing together, making those memories and experiences.”

But, to follow up the basketball title with a softball one, they have to go through Dayton, the looming traditional softball power that’s somehow always in the championship game.

“They’re always well-coached,” Kevin Sprague said. “They’re there year in and year out. You know they’re gonna be sound. You know they’re gonna be fundamentally sound. They’re gonna play the game well because they just know the situation’s not gonna be too big for them. They’re gonna know what they want to do, they’re gonna have a game plan and they’re gonna go and try to execute it. So they’re gonna be ready because they just always are. Their tradition speaks to it, and their coach is gonna get them ready to go.”

The Tigers’ coach is right. Dayton is always there.

Since 2014, Dayton has made the finals every year but one, when it lost in the semifinals in 2014, when the Pirates lost 1-0 to Rainier.

In the next four seasons, Rainier and Dayton split the four state titles, with Dayton winning in 2015 and 2018 and Rainier winning in the years sandwiched between them.

In that same five year stretch, Clatskanie has been in the tournament every year, but with considerably less success.

The Tigers lost to Dayton in the first round in 2014, were bested by Taft in 2015, lost to Weston-McEwen in 2016, then fell to Pleasant Hill in 2017. In those four first-round playoff games, opponents outscored Clatskanie 43-2.

Only in 2018, when the stellar core of now-sophomores arrived, did the Tigers make a run. They beat Harrisburg in the first round, then slipped past Grant Union in the quarterfinals, only to run into the brick wall that is Dayton in the semifinals.

That was Clatskanie’s last loss, as the tigers have gone 26-0 this year with a run differential of plus-220. The next closest is South Umpqua (plus-208), who Clatskanie has already beaten.

“I think if you were to ask them they’d recognize, I guess, that the last time we lost would’ve been them,” Kevin Sprague said. “But I don’t – to say that it weighs, I don’t even think it registers on their radar.”

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