By Jeremy McDonald
BEAVERTON, Ore.– There was a lot of anger coming from the Oregon Herricanes Sunday afternoon after suffering their first lost of the 16A Regional-National Qualifier Tournament to the NW Thunder squad in the Championship Semi-Final round.
But instead of letting it hold them down, they used it as fuel as they exploded for 11 runs in their consolation semi-finals game versus Fire Fastpitch as they advance to the Championship game through the back-end of the bracket 11-3
“This morning that game was so rough on us,” said Zoe Whitlow, who went 2-for-5 with five RBIs that included a three-run home run. “I think we wanted to take our anger out somehow and so by playing that second game, I think it brought us together as a whole and we found some spots. We just kept going off those hits and we just kept going-and-going, taking our anger out on the ball.
“I don’t think I’ve seen us hit that ball that hard in a long time.”
Fun little tidbit, all 11 runs came with two outs on the board for the Oregon squad.
Entering their rematch with the Thunder, who beat them 14-3 to start Sunday’s games, they went with a change of pace. The Herricanes wants to catch Northwest off guard somehow. The strategy was to throw about 85-percent of off-speed pitches, i.e. knuckleballs, change-ups, etc.
And instead of going with Stayton’s Sydney Maurer or Central’s Emily Cole to do so, they went with the Panthers Sydney Nash in a pitcher they haven’t seen yet. For Nash, she had to knock off some rust in pitching and wasn’t nervous as she went out to the circle against the Thunder for the first game of hopefully two games for the tournament championship.
“I wasn’t nervous at actually because it’s not my position, so I have no pressure to be good. I’m just got to pitch strikes and that’s what I did,” said Nash.
Nash tamed the bats of Northwest, creating groundballs and fly-outs with her off-speed stuff as Cole brought in the first run off her being walked with the bases loaded. Whitlow followed that with a two-run RBI Single to give Oregon a 2-0 lead after two.
Frustrations were there for the Thunder as the squad that scored an average of 12 runs a game prior were held to just a run after three innings of play.
“It was really nice, they were all getting upset and it was just fun,” smiled Nash.
The defense continued to make plays, holding Northwest to a run in the fourth and fifth. Although the Thunder led 3-2 after five, the hope was still there as they were making good defensive stops along the way.
“We were having fun, I was having fun in the infield and I think when coach put Sydney in…we didn’t lose focus but we relaxed more because we knew that Sydney hasn’t pitched in a long-time,” starts Whitlow. “We were much more relaxed and they were getting frustrated so it made us kind of happy too, but that was a relaxed game. The first couple of innings were definitely relaxed for sure.”
It was the sixth inning where things got interesting. The bats of the Thunder arrived as they built a 7-2 lead entering the bottom of the sixth inning.
But, per prior situations like yesterday’s game against the Washington Illusion, the Herricanes battled back.
Savannah Hutchinson starting the scoring with an RBI single. A bunt loaded the bases that brought in another run after Nash’s walk. Maurer brought two home with a two-RBI single turned double to tie the game at 7.
Gracie Zanona gave Oregon back the lead with an RBI strike as the Herricanes led 8-7 after six.
“I don’t know, I guess we just wanted to persevere and we all know we have that drive and motivation to just want it,” said Zanona. “And we wanted to play another game, we wanted to beat them and then try to beat them again.”
Northwest tied it up to force another International Tiebreaker for the Oregon Herricanes in the eighth inning. Oregon got two quick outs, but a bobble on a ground-ball allowed a set up for the go-ahead three-run home run to hand the Thunder a 11-8 lead before the inning ended.
A quick double play against the Herricanes pinned them in a tight situation, but they’ve been here before as Maurer hit a double with two outs. But a ground-out ended the game on the next at-bat to sadly ended their Championship hopes.
Nonetheless the Oregon Herricanes, who finished second-place in the Regional Qualifer, qualified for the USA National Softball Championships in Seattle here in three weeks with their second-place finish in the tournament that’s awesome all in itself.
“It’s pretty fun because I’ve never qualified for any higher tournaments, so it’s going to be cool to see that bigger tournament,” said Nash.
And as they now prepare for that tournament, it’s going back to work and working hard in preparation for that tournament here in a few weeks along with their tournament in Reno that’s happening around that time as well.
“Just going out and practicing as hard as we can and just wanting it every time and never let off the gas pedal,” said Zanona.
“Never lose hope,” adds Whitlow with a smile as the important lesson from this weekends tournament. “Never, ever lose hope when it comes to stuff like this. Anything can happen. I mean we were down I think five runs in the sixth inning or something and we came back and we tied it, so just don’t lose hope.”
Photos By Jeremy McDonald