A sixth-inning rally, a seventh-inning survival and one historic celebration is how Sheldon softball ended its season.
Emma Neuman capped a four-run sixth with a two-out, three-run double and then the Irish held on through a tense seventh to beat Tualatin 5-4 in the OSAA Class 6A championship game at Jane Sanders Stadium on Saturday, winning the program’s first state title.
“At the beginning of the season we had a thought that we could go all the way but it wasn’t really a reality until today and I’m not even really sure what to say,” Sheldon pitcher Camille Leach said. “I’m so excited for our team, we’ve worked so hard.”
It certainly took a full-game effort from the Irish (25-6) against the Timberwolves (25-6), who led 3-1 after five innings as Sheldon struggled to build momentum on offense against pitcher Tia Ridings.
That all changed in the sixth.
Jordan Henderson led off with her third hit of the game, beating out a slow grounder to third base. One out later Olivia Schmidt dropped a pop up into shallow right field to set up an RBI single from Ella Swangard, as Henderson hustled home from second base to beat the throw from center field, making it 3-2.
After Ridings got her second strikeout of the inning, freshman Tori Leyba, Sheldon’s No. 9 hitter, came to the plate with a chance to keep the inning alive for Neuman.
Leyba fouled off a couple of pitches as she worked the count full, then fouled off another pitch before drawing a walk to load the bases.
“She’s been in that situation before and come through for us,” Sheldon coach Mike Faulconer said. “Over and over again Tori has done a great job getting good at-bats in order to set up the top of the order and give Emma a base runner.”
Neuman, the Southwest Conference co-player of the year and the Irish’s top power hitter, watched Leyba’s at-bat from the on-deck circle desperate for a chance to play the hero.
“I was hoping that Tori was going to get on, obviously,’” said Neuman, who was 0-for-2 in the game at that point. “I was like ‘If I get up there, I need to make something happen’.”
It took her just one pitch to do so, as she ripped the first offering from Ridings to deep right center, emptying the bases and putting Sheldon up 5-3.
“I really wanted my pitch, something I thought I could hit well and not pop up like I had the previous two at-bats,” Neuman said. “I wanted something I thought I could get into the green.”
With her teammates going crazy in the dugout and the large pro-Sheldon crowd erupting in the stands, Neuman stood at second base and soaked in the moment.
“I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I just did that!’” the senior catcher said.
But the game wasn’t over, as the Irish needed Leach to buckle down for one more inning.
The junior gave up a two-run home run in the first inning and then a two-out RBI single in the second as the Timberwolves built their early lead.
Leach found her groove in the third and, after allowing a leadoff single that inning, sat down 10 straight until a one-out walk in the seventh.
Ridings followed that free pass with a run-scoring double to center field as Tualatin cut its deficit to a single run.
Ridings moved to third on a groundout by Andrea Gomez, and the Irish intentionally walked Emily Johansen — whose first-inning bomb gave Tualatin a 2-0 lead — to put the tying and go-ahead runs on base for clean-up hitter Leanna Rosenbaum.
“It was very stressful,” Leach said. “I just knew I had to have full confidence in the team behind me. I know Tualatin is a great-hitting team so regardless what happened I had to have confidence in my team on the field.”
It took just four pitches for Leach to get Rosenbaum to pop out to right field, sealing the victory for the Irish and setting off a celebration in the circle.
“I just wanted her to calm down,” Neuman said of Leach going into the seventh, “and I wanted everyone to stay with us for three more outs.”
Leach allowed seven hits to go with three walks and four strikeouts, with her ability to successfully navigate the top of Tualatin’s order in the seventh as impressive as anything she did in her previous six innings.
Ridings allowed nine hits in six innings with three strikeouts and two walks for the defending state champions. She also went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run.
“Five years ago this seemed like an impossible dream,” said Faulconer, whose first team in 2015 won just four games. “But every year we’ve gotten better and the girls work hard. We’ve got a great, great group of girls on this squad. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Ridgeview 5, Dallas 1: The top-seeded Ravens (24-2) won their first state title by scoring all of their runs in the third and fourth innings at Jane Sanders Stadium. Marley Sargent and Lorena Vasquez each drove in two runs for Ridgeview. Allicitie Frost struck out 15 Dragons (23-6) and allowed five hits in going the distance in the circle. Madeline Doig was 2-for-3 and drove in the only run for Dallas, which had a 15-game winning streak snapped.
La Grande 4, Henley 2: The top-seeded Tigers downed the second-seeded Hornets for the state title for the second straight year, this time at Jane Sanders Stadium. Neither team had lost to a 4A team all season before Saturday. La Grande (24-1) scored all of its runs in the first three innings and then hold on against Henley (29-3). La Grande pitcher Allie Brock struck out 12, walked seven and allowed four hits in the complete-game effort. Jacie Howton had two hits and Jaiden Hafer had two RBIs for the Tigers.
Jesuit 2, Central Catholic 1, 13 innings: Kevin Blair singled home Will Spitznagel with two outs in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the top-seeded Crusaders (26-5) the win over the 15th-seeded Rams (21-11) at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
Central 11, Pendleton 4: The top-seeded Panthers (25-4), who downed Thurston 1-0 in eight innings in the semifinals, routed the seventh-seeded Buckaroos (18-9) at Volcanoes Stadium, jumping to a 9-0 lead after two innings.
Banks 3, Henley 1: The top-seeded Braves (27-3) became one of the few schools in Oregon prep history to win state championships in football, basketball and baseball in the same school year when they downed the second-seeded Hornets (24-5) at Volcanoes Stadium. The last team to pull off the triple crown was North Valley in the 1984-85 school year.