Banks stunned in playoff opener

Predicted by many to contend for a 4A state title, Banks gets bounced by Molalla in the first round
by: Chase Allgood Banks outfielder Natalie Larsen tries to catch a fly ball during last Thursday’s playoff game against Molalla.

There were no excuses afterward. No 'what-ifs' or 'shoulda-beens,' no blaming the umpires or disrespecting their opponent.

In the end, Banks' softball season was abruptly over and head coach Jenny Compton couldn't think of much else to say.

'I guess it just wasn't meant to be,' she said of her team's stunning 3-1 loss to Molalla in the play-in round of the Class 4A state playoffs last Thursday.

'It was just one of those games. Things happened to fall their way that day - everything went right for them, and it didn't for us.'

With a lethal three-headed pitching rotation and a deep lineup, Banks (23-3) stormed to its second straight Cowapa League championship this season and was favored by many to contend for a state title after losing in the finals last year.

Instead, the Lady Braves were bounced from the postseason by a Molalla team that won nine games all year and finished fourth in the Tri-Valley Conference.

'This is one of those games that I'm going to re-live for a while,' Compton said. 'What if we'd done this instead or what if we'd done that instead? But (Molalla) didn't really make any mistakes. I can't think of anything that I would have done differently.'

With the win, Molalla (9-13) advanced to the first round of the state playoffs, where they will face third-ranked Cascade (22-3), the team that beat Banks in last year's state title game.

The Lady Braves, meanwhile, saw their season come to an unexpected end after winning 20 or more games for the second year in a row and outscoring opponents 187-36.

'I really felt like one good hit was going to light a fire,' Compton said of Thursday's game. 'We were knocking on the door of having something big happening - a big inning where we'd score five or six runs. I felt like we were really close, we just never quite got there.'

Molalla jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead with two runs in the first inning and one in the second.

A walk, a single and a Banks fielding error loaded the bases for Molalla in the top of the first, and Christen Logan came through with a clutch two-out, two-run single through the right side of the infield for a 2-0 lead.

The Indians got another run in the second inning. With two outs, Cassidy Skillings reached base on a Banks error, then stole second and third. Teammate Anna Russell followed with a sharp line drive that was dropped, allowing Skillings to score from third and pad the lead to 3-0.

Banks got its only run of the game in the fourth. Natalie Larsen started things with a one-out single, and she moved to third on a pair of wild pitches. Riley Gerlinger drove her in with an RBI groundout, slicing Molalla's lead to 3-1, but the Braves would get no closer.

Molalla sophomore pitcher Sierra Benson was outstanding, limiting Banks to just two hits all game. She struck out three batters and also helped close off the middle of the field with her defense, recording five assists in the game.

'We had some really good hits, but they went right to people,' Compton said. 'We had a few line drives, a couple hard ground balls back up the middle. Their pitcher definitely played her position well.'

Banks junior Melissa Masters took the hard-luck loss in the pitcher's circle, striking out 13 batters and allowing only four hits all game, but three errors led to three unearned runs.

'We were all really disappointed after the game, but the thing that's good about this group of kids is that even in their disappointment, the girls are talking about how hungry they're going to be next year,' Compton said. 'I've been seeing the girls since the game and everybody's got good energy.

'They're already talking about next year.'