Softball - Conference title hopes are gone, but Lady Viks can still claim second place

Forest Grove's goal of winning a Pacific Conference softball championship is all but dead after last Friday's loss to No. 2 McMinnville, but the Lady Vikings are still in prime playoff position and can finish as high as second in the league with two weeks left in the regular season.

Forest Grove dug its own grave with an ugly 7-4 loss to Tualatin two weeks ago, and McMinnville simply filled it in last Friday with a dramatic 1-0 victory that gave the Grizzlies a four-game cushion in the Pacific Conference standings. Forest Grove (12-6, 5-4) now finds itself in a logjam with Tualatin, Canby and Tigard with five games left.

'We blew that game against Tualatin and put ourselves in a really bad spot,' said Forest Grove head coach Ole Evenson. 'We've got to figure it out. I'm sick of saying, 'We're close.' Against Mac we basically outplayed them but still lost, so we're doing some things right. We just need to continue the improvements we're making.'

Forest Grove took care of business early last week with a 4-1 win over last-place Newberg on Wednesday and a 2-1, come-from-behind win over Tigard on Thursday. A victory over McMinnville (18-1, 9-0) on Friday would have kept the Lady Vikings' slim league title hopes alive, but Mac scored the game-winner with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.

Junior Emma Gronseth pitched a gem, allowing just two hits over 62/3 innings with eight strikeouts. She took the tough-luck loss when Mac put two runners aboard to start the seventh and scored the winning run on a ground ball that was misplayed with two outs.

'It was probably the best game Emma has pitched in three years, which makes it doubly frustrating,' Evenson said.

Forest Grove stranded nine base runners in the game and squandered a number of scoring opportunities. The Lady Viks twice failed to score a runner from third with two outs and also blew a shot with runners on second and third and nobody out in the sixth inning. McMinnville ace Anna Bertrand scattered five hits over seven innings with 11 strikeouts, including three straight whiffs to get out of the jam in the sixth.

'We've had some issues in terms of being 100 percent checked in [mentally] some games, but this week we didn't have that problem,' Evenson said. 'We're on the upswing. We've just got to keep improving.'

The Lady Viks topped Newberg 4-1 last Wednesday, getting a two-run home run from sophomore Faith Evenson in the top of the first, then adding single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Newberg's only run was unearned.

One day later against Tigard, the Lady Vikings found themselves down 1-0 through five innings, but rallied to snatch a victory away from the visiting Tigers. Erin Haworth bunted for a single to lead off the bottom of the sixth, then stole second and third. She scored the tying run on an error.

Forest Grove capped the comeback in the bottom of the seventh, getting back-to-back singles from Kristi Vandebergh and Gronseth to start the inning. After a double steal, Bridget White knocked in the winning run with a base hit.

'We've got to take care of business the rest of the way,' Evenson said. 'It's no more Mr. Nice Guy.'

The third and final round of conference play begins this afternoon with a home game against Tualatin. The Lady Vikings will get one more crack at all five conference opponents, and those five games will decide the tight race for second place between Forest Grove, Tualatin, Canby and Tigard.

'If we can get three wins this week, we're in great shape,' Evenson said. 'We could wrap up the season series against all three teams that we're fighting for second place with.'

Wednesday's game will start at 5 p.m. at Forest Grove High School.

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