By Jeremy McDonald
MEDFORD, Ore.– The challenge was right out in front of them for the Western Nationals Title and they had to go about it one-pitch at a time and one game at a time.
That’s because, unlike their Oregon State Championship in the 14A Division in Medford a few weeks prior in July, they would need to win three straight games to fulfil the goal of bringing home the title.
They got to US Cellular Fields and the turf fields around them at 7am for their 9am game versus the NorCal Legends. They won that in five innings 8-0 with home runs by Reagan Davis and Maison Searle to set up the rematch with the Colorado Angels from Aurora, Colorado.
The NW Vandals forced an winners-take-all second game after their six run seventh inning helped sealed the game with a 12-3 win with their bats slowly finding their groove on Championship Sunday.
“Honestly, it felt good just keep going out. It was hard going up to the plate and think I’m going to get stricken out or bat out because that’s how I felt I went the whole week but I was beating myself up about it,” describe Carley Schlag on the bats as Schlag picked up two hits and a RBI in the three games as a DH Sunday.
Kamden Combs pitched the first two games Sunday as the incoming Philomath sophomore pitched 12 innings with seven strikeouts as Combs battled through the radiating heat on the US Cellular Fields to help her team set up the final do-or-die game at 1pm.
“It was important because we needed to get to this game to be able to win it and I just knew I just needed to get the last out for my team and we’ll be ok,” said Combs as she fought through fatigue and exhaustion to finish the second game of the day alongside her teammates.. “And Kami can come pitch this one.”
The heat seeped through the smoke coming in from the east from the Grants Pass-area as both team’s recover for one last hurrah. It was 12:30-ish when the Vandals finished up their second game with one more to go. They were here, they were faced with the adversity once more of finishing the job with it in front of them.
The Angels sent out Lanie Smith who helped cool the bats of the Vandals Saturday afternoon to put them in this situation for the final game of the season as West Salem’s Searle was the vocal leader on the diamond and incoming Dallas freshman Ruby Earhart was the vocal leader in the dugout.
“It was definitely key, it helped a lot,” said Searle as the Titan was a major part of the NW Vandals success at third base Sunday. “Just playing from yesterday, you just got to realize that you just got to come out and play hard and that’s what we did.”
“It was really important, you learn over the years that the dugout is fifty-percent of what do you do out there,” adds Earhart. “Having a good momentum in the dugout and in the field, picking each your teammates up is really crucial when you get to a good game like this and it comes down to the line and you really need everyone really engaging in for it.”
Kami Gibson stepped in for the circle for her redemption from Saturday’s finale and both her and Smith went to work with their defense’s behind them with both sides denying the other from scoring despite runners on base and in scoring position numerous times.
“It’s kind of what it’s all about,” said Earhart, who played first-base in Sunday’s finale. “It’s all about having focus and knowing what plays you have to make and what needs to be done to win a game like this and I think our defense and our offense was spot on this game…we held them to no runs and I believe that after this game that we have what it takes to keep your head in the whole game.”
Some eventually had to give. It wouldn’t be surprising if this game went to the International Tiebreaker, but neither one of these teams wanted that to happened.
The deciding factor came in the sixth inning when Gibson helped her cause by driving in the game’s first run of the game that drove Davis home with Bella Fleener driving McNary’s Abbi Covalt home from third base with the game now in favor of the Vadals 2-0.
But the NW Vandals weren’t out of the woods yet as they went back out on defense, with runners at first and second base.
“It just felt really good and I was excited to see we were up and just getting a comeback on them,” said Gibson, who struck out four, threw a complete game two-hitter and went 2-for-3 at the plate. “I was just thinking in my head like, ‘it’s just two more innings, we can do this. Just give it all we got and we just pushed and pushed.”
Covalt with a pop-out and Gibson with a ground-out ending the inning with the shutout in tack entering the seventh inning. The Vandals couldn’t tack on any insurance runs entering the bottom half of the seventh inning as a Claudia Proctor went seven-pitches with Gibson before grounding out to Searle for the first out.
The Vandals cheered in celebration, two outs to out with Gabri Giroux coming to the plate. Grioux went six pitches with Gibson before succumbing to Gibson with a strikeout for out number two.
Unless something weird happens with a two-out rally, the game was the NW Vandals to lose. And it seemed like the Softball higher-ups above had made them work by putting them down 2-0 to Isabella Waleski before she sent a dribbler to Gibson on a groundball.
“It just felt amazing to finish the season on that, it just felt great,” said Gibson as she fielded the ground-ball and sent it to Earhart at first.
Searle, who was drifting in from third base slightly, was getting to the pitchers circle when Earhart received the ball for the final out as Searle and company started cheering in celebration of the incredible finish to the season.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling knowing that you worked your hardest and it all paid off,” said Searle.
And as they lined-up for their plaques and the first-place trophy along the first-base line, their hard work of three games came to fruition as they finished off the summer season on a tear.
“I think we deserved it, we worked hard and we never quit,” said Combs. “I just think we all wanted it so I didn’t think we cared that we were tired or anything like that.”
With them going their separate ways, some to Volleyball or Soccer, other’s to recover maybe for a Winter Sport like basketball or swimming or just waiting for next Spring when softball starts back up, one thing is for certain; they’ll won’t forget the journey they had this summer as members of the NW Vandals.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald