The Lions take a 'business as usual 'approach while waiting the arrival of Hermiston

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JOHN BREWINGTON - Kaitlin Coy of Gladstone slides safely into home past the tag of St. Helens catcher Jasmyne Pense during the Gladiators' 6-2 win on Monday.Conduct business as usual as much as possible.

That was the plan this week for the St. Helens softball team.

Friday's play-in game at home against Hermiston will be anything but the usual for the Lions, but while waiting for it, they tried to keep busy and preoccupied with two non-counting, practice games.

On Monday, the Lions welcomed Class 4A Tri-Valley Conference champion Gladstone and lost 6-2 as the Gladiators posted their 16th win in a row.

On Wednesday, the Lions traveled to Silverton to face a team that, like them, is headed to the 5A postseason. St. Helens won 9-3. The Lions scored the first four runs and five of the last six runs; freshman pitcher Alise Gump and junior Madi Flores each homered for St. Helens.

"I wanted to do a normal routine, just because we've been playing so well with it," St. Helens coach Miranda Little said. "We normally play Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, so this week it was Monday, Wednesday, Friday."

Scouting reports on Hermiston were still to come, but the Lions have respect for their Friday foe. In the second game of the 2017 season, Hermiston defeated St. Helens 15-2.

"Hermiston has solid pitching and they hit the ball really well," Little said. "So I'm hoping our bats come out Friday like they did the last few games (of the league season)."

Getting to play at home was a big goal of the Lions, and they got it thanks to a late surge. St. Helens won its final five Northwest Oregon Conference games to nab fourth place.

"I think it's a huge advantage to be playing at home," said Taylor Dow, the Lions' junior shortstop. "Our crowd has been great, and we've been taking the energy from them and running with it."

St. Helens wrapped up its regular season with a 16-6 victory on May 11 at Milwaukie. The Lions (11-14 overall) are ranked 16th in 5A by the Oregon School Activities Association. Hermiston (15-9) is ranked seventh after finishing third in the four-team Columbia River Conference.

Little had to decide whether to give her team some time off or try to stay in rhythm with a couple of tune-up games. She got a call last week from Gladstone, one of the eight 4A teams with a free pass to the first round, and decided that playing more would be a good idea.

"It keeps us in a groove, and we get to see pitchers we haven't seen, which will be the case on Friday," Little said.

These glorified scrimmages can be awkward, however, and the Lions were sluggish for a while on Monday. They muffed some plays defensively, which helped Gladstone take a 4-0 lead (the first run scoring on a passed ball in the first inning, then the next two crossing the plate on a two-out, dropped pop-up that followed three singles).

"I don't know what it was, whether it was because it was Monday or because it was warm or what, but we weren't our normal, energetic selves at the start," Little said.

The Gladiators got two more runs in the fifth for a 6-0 lead, but the Lions seemed to right the ship in the last couple of innings, with better all-around play.

St. Helens broke through against Gladstone in the seventh, scoring two runs and threatening to do more damage. The game ended with three Lions on base, and after Dow whacked a two-run single over the third-base bag with two outs. The hit scored Brynn Austin and Trinity Degraffenreid — and carried some personal significance for Dow.

In the summer, Dow plays on the Rebels, a club team out of Canby, with Gladstone pitcher senior Shaye Pinner, who otherwise was in command on Monday. Pinner finished with 10 strikeouts.

In the end, St. Helens had seven hits, but the Lions mustered only four scattered singles until the seventh.

Dow gained some bragging rights with her hit, "and you better believe I'm going to go back to her with it," she said with a laugh. "I definitely didn't want her to have a shutout on our home field, so I had to make sure I ruined it for her."

The momentum carried over to Wednesday's game at Silverton, and the fun and games for Dow and the Lions will swing into even higher gear on Friday.

The winner between St. Helens and Hermiston will advance to the 16-team 5A tournament and have a first-round game on Wednesday.

"I'm super stoked," Dow said. "The way we've been playing, we've all come together, and I think we can make it pretty far. It's exciting we get to play here at home."

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