>Senior smashes game-winning home run in eighth
The Madras High School softball team has a flare for the dramatic, winning again in late innings in the opening round of the state championship softball playoffs for the second consecutive season.
   White Buffalo senior third baseman Alex Holcomb blasted a game-winning two-run home run to left field May 25 during the opening round of the Class 4A OSAA state championship softball tournament to lift Madras past host Sutherlin 4-2.
   "I was screaming all the way around the bases," Holcomb said of her home run that broke a 2-2 tie. "It was an amazing feeling."
   Madras (22-5 overall) advanced to play Central (23-2) last Friday in the Class 4A quarterfinals. Central defeated Crook County 10-2 Wednesday in another opening-round contest.
   "Our girls fight till the end," Madras head coach Shawna McConnell said of her team. "They just don't give up and it's their best quality as a team."
   Holcomb struck out in her previous plate appearance, but Holcomb and teammates said she was right on each pitch during that at bat.
   "We kept wondering when it was going to happen because Alex was seeing the ball so well," McConnell said. "She finally got the pitch she wanted and she tattooed that ball. The second I heard her bat hit the ball, I knew it was gone."
   Madras players and patrons erupted in celebration, according to McConnell, and Jamie Moe ended the game by retiring all three batters she faced in the bottom of the eighth frame to earn the save.
   "Maycee (Abendschein) was tired, so we handed the ball to Jamie and she was stellar," McConnell said.
   The game was perhaps saved in the bottom of the sixth frame when Noreen Sampson made a diving catch in left field and threw out a runner at second base to an outstretched Lauren Short with no outs in the inning.
   "That play would have made ESPN's top 10," McConnell said. "Noreen flew through the air to get that ball, jumped up and threw a strike to Lauren, who made a heck of a stretch to get the base runner."
   The White Buffalos, the Tri-Valley Conference regular-season champions, were in trouble early in the game. Sutherlin, who reached the Class 4A quarterfinals last year, scored two runs on three hits in the opening frame for a 2-0 lead.
   "I just didn't pitch as good as I liked," Abendschein said. "I was able to settle down and get it done."
   Moe tied the game in the third inning with a two-run, two-out single to score Natalie Martin and Lauren Short, both of whom singled to reach base.
   "It was a huge hit," McConnell said of Moe's single. "With two outs, Jamie was clutch."
   Neither team could muster much offense in the fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh frames. The Bulldogs reached second base four times during that stretch, but Sampson ended the biggest scoring threat for either team in the bottom of the sixth frame with her electrifying defensive play.
   "I honestly was not sure Noreen was going to catch that ball, but somehow, some way she got it," Holcomb said. "Lauren made a great play too, to stretch out like she did."
   Abendschein earned the win, tossing seven innings. The right-hander booked seven strikeouts, allowed five hits and walked three.
   "She is a fighter out there," McConnell said of Abendschein. "She really showed her leadership in the circle."
   Central finished second in the Oregon West Conference, behind Class 4A defending state champion Cascade.
   "Central will be the best team we have faced all year," McConnell said. "We will travel down there on an emotional high and I know we will give them everything we can Friday."
   Holcomb's heroic home run came one year after Abendschein hit a walk-off home run at home in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs to beat Crescent Valley.
   "These girls know they are a hitting team," McConnell said. "They just keep chipping away and find a way to get it done in dramatic style."
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