Until last Friday, Kelsey Wood had not pitched in a softball game in six years. So, the middle of a first-round playoff game didn't seem like a good time to get her reacquainted with the pitching position. But Lake Oswego softball coach coach Don Hunt didn't have much of a choice.
With the Lakers trailing 3-1 to Lincoln midway through last Friday's first-round game, Hunt was forced to pull starting pitcher Taylor Hemzacek because of an arm injury. Unfortunately, Hunt had no one left on the team with any varsity pitching experience. So Hunt went with his next best option.
He handed the ball to Wood, who had not pitched since the seventh grade. It certainly wasn't a bad choice since Wood is one of the most athletic players in the Three Rivers League. She proved that by playing five different positions during regular season; and when she added the pitcher's role to her resume, Wood made it look like her natural position.
When Wood took the mound in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Cardinals had two runners on and were in good position to add to their two-run lead. But Wood worked her way out of that jam and made it through the next three innings without giving up a run.
Lake Oswego wound up winning that game 7-3, thanks a six-run sixth inning, which was capped by Wood's two-run homer. The inning also featured a two-run double by Julia Klitzke and single RBIs by Caitlyn Frasier and Carlen Don.
After having trouble scoring runs in some of their late-season games, it was certainly a great way to break out of a slump. But Wood's effort, both at the plate on the mound, was nothing short of sensational.
'It was just incredible,' Hunt would say later.
Despite Wood's performance on the mound, the plan was to have Hemzacek ready to pitch in Tuesday's second-round playoff game against highly-touted Central Catholic. Hemzacek looked good in a Sunday practice and seemed poised to resume her pitching duties. But minutes after practice ended, Hemzacek accidently stepped on a bat and broke her ankle. The injury was bad enough to require surgery.
That meant Wood was forced into another emergency pitching role. But the results were much different the second time as Central Catholic rolled to a 10-0 victory. Considering Wood's lack of recent experience and the fact the Rams' lineup is loaded with talented hitters, Tuesday's outcome was nothing to be ashamed of.
'I want to give a lot of credit to Kelsey Wood,' Hunt said after the game. 'We asked her to do the impossible and she did her job … I was really proud of her.'
The loss ended what was a strange and, at times, a difficult year for the Lakers (13-14). They lost four starters during the course of the season, although injured shortstop Courtney Fitzgerald returned late in the season for defensive purposes only. Each game it seemed Hunt was forced to try out a new lineup.
'I challenge any team in the state to take away four of their top players, including two pitchers … and still win,' Hunt said.
But Tuesday's game started with some promise. Frasier opened the contest with a walk and then Klitzke pushed a bunt past the pitcher to give the Lakers two runners with no outs.
'I thought, 'Here we go,'' Hunt remembered telling himself at the time.
But the threat ended when the next three batters struck out.
In the bottom of the first, the Rams plated two runs with four singles. They added five more tallies in the second frame, although they were only officially credited with four runs that inning. It proved to be too much of a hole to dig out of for the Lakers.
In the fourth, Hunt turned over the pitching duties to sophomore Danielle Meeker and she wound up being one of the stars for the Lakers. She pitched the final three innings and held Central scoreless on just one hit.
'She didn't do a bad job, did she?' Hunt said of Meeker's performance. 'Going from JV ball to pitching three innings of one-hit ball in the playoffs. That was unbelievable.'
Meanwhile, despite finishing fourth in the TRL, the Lakers had a great showing in last week's all-league balloting. Don took home the biggest piece of hardware when she was named the league's player of the year. In addition, catcher Maggie Sholian and outfielders Megan Amadon and Klitzke also made the first team.
Second-team honors went to Wood, as an infielder, and Hemzacek; and Fitzgerald received honorable mention despite playing in only a few league games. Overall, it was not a bad showing for a team that struggled for much of the season.
'It just shows the respect the coaches in the league have for our players,' Hunt said.