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Horizon Christian journey ends in state title tilt

Softball: The Hawks, who faced early-season questions, are edged by Glide
by: DAN BROOD TROPHY TIME — The Horizon Christian High School softball players and coaches gather with the second-place trophy following Friday’s Class 3A state championship game. The Hawks lost 5-2 to Glide.

CORVALLIS - The Horizon Christian High School softball team started the 2011 season by having to deal with a whole lot of uncertainty.

The Hawks finished the season by playing for the state championship.

And, not only did they earn a shot to play for the title, but they put forth a spirited rally that nearly gave them a chance to capture the gold.

Horizon Christian, which, at the start of the season, didn't know if it would have enough players to field at team, was edged 5-2 by Glide in the Class 3A state championship game played Friday at the Oregon State University Softball Complex.

'This means so much to us. God took us on such a journey,' Horizon Christian sophomore first baseman Liz Caron said after the title contest. 'We went from having just nine players and maybe having a team to being in the state championship game.'

'To get this far after starting the season with nine players is just awesome,' Horizon Christian junior catcher Victoria Mortensen said. 'No words can describe it. It's crazy.'

Glide, the Sunset League champion, finished its season with a final record of 28-0, making the Wildcats the only unbeaten baseball or softball team in the state.

'That's a very good team,' Horizon Christian coach Mike Dempster said.

Horizon Christian, the No. 3 team out of the West Valley League, ended its season with a final overall record of 20-10.

'It was awesome,' Horizon Christian junior pitcher Anna Dempster said. 'We started the season not sure if we'd even have a team. Glory to God.'

'This was awesome,' Horizon Christian senior shortstop Kylee Phillips said. 'We had never been here before. It was so much fun.'

The young Horizon Christian team, lacking in postseason experience, was battling jitters in the early going of Friday's title contest.

'We were very nervous,' Phillips said. 'I think everyone was.'

The veteran Glide squad, which lost to Willamina in last year's title game, took advantage of that, jumping to a quick lead.

Wildcat junior McKenzie Shrum had a bunt single to lead off the top of the first inning. She stole second base, went to third on a passed ball and then scored on a single by junior Kelsey Jeffries to give Glide a fast 1-0 lead.

Jeffries scored later in the frame when Horizon Christian committed a throwing error on a bunt single by senior Marissa Duarte to up Glide's lead to 2-0.

Glide added another run in the second inning, when senior Danette Enos scored on a single by Shrum. The Wildcats then tacked on two more runs in the top of the third inning, with Danielle Enos having an RBI single, to up their early lead to 5-0.

'We had a lot of jitters,' Mortensen said. 'Half the team had never played softball before this year.'

But the Hawks suddenly seemed to shake away their jitters, and they battled their way back into the game.

Mortensen drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning. One out later, Anna Dempster blasted a triple deep to center field, driving in Mortensen to make the score 5-1.

'I just saw the ball and I hit it,' Dempster said of the RBI triple. 'It was just normal state of mind.'

'Anna's hit got us going,' Mortensen said. 'I was so stoked.'

Dempster then scored on a sacrifice bunt by Caron, cutting the Glide lead to 5-2.

Horizon Christian, with momentum now on its side, kept trying to get closer.

Hawk junior Jess Thoens singled to right field to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning, but she was thrown out trying to steal second.

In the sixth inning, Mortensen hit a one-out single to left field. The next Horizon Christian batter, senior Gracie Dempster, launched a deep fly ball down the left-field line. The ball drifted about 10 feet foul as it cleared the outfield fence, just missing being a two-run home run that would have cut the Glide lead to one.

Duarte, Glide's pitcher, then got a pop up and a groundout to get out of the jam.

The Hawks then went down in order in the bottom of the seventh inning, ending the game and giving Glide the 5-2 victory.

'We didn't lose the game, we just ran out of innings,' Mike Dempster said. 'I'm so proud of the girls. I didn't see them give up at any point. This is the stuff they'll learn from and take with them through life.

'We honestly didn't know at the start of the season if we were going to have a team, but we were practicing for this championship game since Day 1.'

'We all pulled together,' Phillips said. 'It was our encouragement and our fans. And it was God. That's the only answer.'

'We knew we could do it,' Caron said. 'That first big hit got us going. That first hit is always the toughest. This was so much fun. Playing on a Division I field like this is a dream come true for me. I'm so proud of each and every girl on the team. It was a great team effort.'

Horizon Christian had three hits in the championship game - singles by Thoens and Mortensen and Anna Dempster's triple.

Anna Dempster also pitched a strong game for the Hawks. She gave up three earned runs on five hits while striking out eight and walking two. Dempster, and her Horizon Christian teammates, also shut out Glide after the third inning.

'Honestly, if we could redo those first few innings, I think we'd win,' she said. 'I'm extremely proud of these girls. I'm proud of everyone.'

For Glide, Shrum, Jeffries, senior Alexa Skinner, Danielle Enos and Danette Enos each had one hit. Duarte, in getting the complete-game pitching victory, struck out eight and walked one.

The championship game marked the final high school contest for Horizon Christian seniors Phillips, Mortensen, Gracie Dempster and Tandy Solly.

'It was our last hurrah,' Mortensen said with a smile. 'It was a wonderful way to go out.'

'It was an amazing way to finish our senior year,' Phillips said.

Other members of the Horizon Christian team include junior Jess Murrell, junior Claire Paul, freshman Josie Claus and sophomore Sasha Iliyn. Ken Caron and Ashley Cox are the team's assistant coaches and Yeseul Lee is the team's manager.