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Lady Braves: Four games to go

Pitching strategy is under wraps on the road to state playoffs
by: Chase Allgood, Courtney Engeseth connects on a pitch during successful play setting the team up for a run at state.

After clinching the Cowapa League title for the third consecutive year, the Banks softball team was just one play-in game away from the Class 4A state playoffs.

The Lady Braves had faced the same situation last year, though, and they saw their 2011 season end with a stunning loss to Molalla.

This year, Banks was determined not to overlook the play-in round.

'They know that any team can lose at any point in time if you don't play to your potential,' Banks coach Jenny Compton said.

The Lady Braves came out firing on all cylinders last Thursday in their play-in game against North Marion. Senior Mellissa Masters was lights out in the pitching circle, Banks played strong defense behind her and the team hit the stuffing out of the ball, rolling to a 14-0 win in which Banks 10-runned the visiting Huskies in five innings.

'The girls hit the ball very well,' Compton said. 'They timed the pitcher. They had good selections of pitches to swing at and were just aggressive and had some great hits. They hit pretty much through the whole lineup.'

Banks enters the playoffs with a 21-4 record. While the Lady Braves are talented, Compton says the key to Banks' success has been the relationships that have developed as the girls played volleyball and basketball together.

'There's some chemistry because they play other sports together,' Compton said. 'They have a lot of trust in one another because they know each other really well, which is really good. The girls are having fun. We (the coaches) are having fun with them. Everyone has got really great attitudes about the game and people are really excited to be a part of this team and to play for one another.'

Banks, a No. 3 seed, will face sixth-seeded McLoughlin (15-9) in the first round at home today. Compton is keeping her pitching rotation for the playoffs close to the vest. The Lady Braves have been on a three-pitcher rotation this season with Masters, senior Marla Gooding and junior Kaylin VanDomelen.

Compton says that she will look at each game and decide who will be the best arm to throw.

'We did a three-pitcher rotation and they all pitched equal games,' Compton said. 'Now that we're in the play-in round, plus the state playoffs, we're basically going to make a determination what we're going to do each game for pitching.'

Banks enters the playoffs with high expectations after being the state runner-up in 2010 with a team comprised of mostly freshman and sophomores. But, Compton has been harping on her team to focus on every game, every inning, every pitch, every at-bat.

'We've really been focusing on playing one game at a time and whoever that next opponent is, that's who we're preparing ourselves for,' Compton said. 'We're just trying to make the most of every single practice and the most of every single game and staying relaxed and staying confident. That's been the biggest part of our focus this year.

'Even within the game, if the first inning we score a handful of runs, we can't overlook any other innings. You just play for every single pitch of the game. You just never know if or when your last game will be or when your last pitch will be.'

With four games standing between Banks and a state title, Compton is happy with the way her team is playing.

'We've had some great defense behind our pitchers,' she said. 'We've had a lot of talking on our defense and our offense has been supporting the team as well and producing runs throughout the lineup.'

If the Lady Braves can continue to play the way they have been all season, Compton is excited about the possibilities.

'If a lot of things are clicking really well,' she said, 'hopefully this thing can keep going.'