CLATSKANIE — Off the bat, both were gone.
The two home runs in the Oregon 3A softball semifinal were impressive as they were valuable, them both changing the lights on the scoreboard as well as energizing their respective dugouts and fans.
The only difference between them was one was ultimately inconsequential, and the other was the final nail in the coffin.
Tayah Kelly of No. 4 South Umpqua launched the third pitch of the game over the right-center field fence to give the Lancers a very early 1-0 lead and momentum and life and belief, but Shelby Blodgett returned the favor in the fourth, tattooing a ball over the left field fence and the fans lining it for a grand slam, part of a five-run inning that propelled Clatskanie to a 10-4 win and a spot in the 3A softball championship game.
Clatskanie (26-0) faces the winner of the Cascade Christian/Dayton semifinal game in the state title game at a time to be determined at Jane Sanders Stadium on Friday at the University of Oregon in Eugene.
“That ball was hammered,” Clatskanie coach Kevin Sprague said.
“I saw that swing and I was like, ‘That’s gone,’” said Alexis Smith, who was standing at first. “I was so proud of her. I was kinda like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be the start of a really good inning.’”
Kelly’s opposite field shot sprinkled a modicum of doubt into the Tigers’ minds. Not necessarily catastrophic, crippling doubt, but enough to affirm the word about the Lancers from the southern part of the state.
This game wasn’t going to be easy. South Umpqua wasn’t going to roll over.
“When she hit that home run, we were like, ‘Oh, no, is is how it’s gonna go,’” Smith said. “But we knew if we stayed loud, kept cheering and we pushed, that we would be able to go past them.”
A base running blunder in the bottom of the third only reinforced that idea, with South Umpqua leading by just that one run with Kelly dealing.
The Lancer senior has three strikeouts in the first two innings, blowing fastballs by the Tigers then keeping them off balance with slower stuff.
But Trinity Hamm broke the spell to start the third, pounding a line-drive triple over Skype Gibson’s head in right and sliding in feet first for the Tigers’ first of six extra base hits of the afternoon.
But she wasn’t there for long.
On the second pitch to left-handed Jayden Makinson, Lancers catcher Aaliyah Rudy popped and fired to Kaylie Mann at third, getting the diving Hamm rather easily to to once again spark the Lancers dugout. It was a mistake that, again, wasn’t catastrophic either, just more reinforcement of what Clatskanie already knew. It was also a situation and play Sprague talks about frequently.
“When off-handed batters, in other words when you’re looking straight at the catcher, and they have an open view, you have to be more conservative on the bases because they will go after you,” Kevin Sprague said. “Especially when they have a clear view. And we just got caught. It’s a learning lesson. We survived it.”
But Clatskanie came right back.
Makinson walked, Olivia Sprague bunted her to second, then Smith doubled to deep center, easily plating The speedy Makinson and tying the game.
Blodgett then shot a laser into right center, giving Smith time to hustle around for a 2-1 lead, one that Clatskanie never relented, before Maris Jackson singled into right, giving Blodgett time to score for a 3-1 lead.
By then, Blodgett was cruising in the circle and Clatskanie was once again sure of themselves, its confidence fully returned after South Umpqua’s early surge.
The Lancers, as is their custom, did not go down easily.
Mann doubled with one out in the fourth, then Shalyn Gray shot her own laser into the right center gap. It cut Clatskanie’s lead to one at 3-2, but Blodgett stopped the bleeding, getting two comebackers to end the threat.
Then, in the home fourth, the Tigers blew it open.
Kami Harrison started things with a one-out double into left, a slicer that Aneykah McCall made a valiant dive for but came up inches short.
An out later, which was a touched fly ball to center that just missed doing damage, Makinson reached on an infield error, one that allowed Harrison to score, doubling Clatskanie’s lead.
Olivia Sprague blooped a single into left, then Kelly plunked Smith in the back with two strikes, bringing up Blodgett.
She hammered an 0-1 pitch well over the left field fence. The fans sitting along the fence didn’t even turn to watch it go. They simply raised their arms in triumph as it soared over their heads, the score now 8-2 and a trip to Eugene seemingly in hand.
“That’s a great swing in all that, but you gotta keep in mind and I keep preaching to the kids: it’s not that swing, it’s everything we did before too,” Kevin Sprague said. “All the contact, the at-bats to get the bases loaded, so you can get that kind of result. The process generates that.”
Clatskanie kept plating runs, as did South Umpqua.
The Lancers got one in the fifth and sixth, eventually having the tying run on deck in the latter frame, but Blodgett kept slamming the door, getting a lot of help from the shortstop Olivia Sprague, who was busy all day.
The Lancers never got closer than that, though, with Clatskanie adding a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth, one on a Jackson single to right that led to a bad throw to get Blodgett going from first to third that got away from Mann, allowing Blodgett to score; the other coming on a Hamm single past a diving Amelia Ferguson at second that gave time for Kaity Sizemore to jog home from third after she had earlier singled.
The insurance was all Blodgett needed. She pitched around a walk in the seventh and sent Clatskanie to the championship game, where the bevy of sophomores look to win their second straight state title after claiming the basketball championship in March.
“This sophomore class is, we’re here to stay,” Smith said. “We want to dominate everything.”