But they remain in the hunt for at least a share of the TVC title

With an outright league title appearing out of reach, the Gladstone Gladiators entered play this week hopeful of avenging last week’s loss to Molalla and earning a Tri-Valley Conference co-championship with the Indians.

Molalla entered play this week with an 11-1 record in the TVC, and an overall record of 16-4.

Gladstone entered the week with a conference record of 10-2,and an overall record of 21-2.

The two teams were to finish the regular season with three conference games this week, including a head-to-head game at Gladstone on Friday. Gladstone also had games remaining with North Marion (13-9, 5-7) and La Salle (10-9, 5-7); Molalla had games remaining with Madras (13-10, 5-7), La Salle and Gladstone.

Ranked second in the state, the Gladiators got upset by Molalla on April 29, dropping a 3-2 heartbreaker. They bounced back from the loss with a 20-0 rout of Estacada on April 30, and a 2-0 win at Madras last Thursday.

“We didn’t play our best [in the loss to Molalla],” said Gladstone coach Bruce Mortier. “We made mistakes and they capitalized....

“I think they’ll be ready to go [for Friday’s game with Molalla]. After we lost to Madras, we pretty much dominated them the next two times we played them, and I think we’ll do the same [in Friday’s game with] Molalla.”

Gladstone pitcher Nena Dudley struck out 12 batters and allowed just four hits in last week’s 3-2 loss to Molalla. But one bad inning proved costly.

Trailing 2-0, the Indians scored all three of their runs in the bottom of the third, when they took advantage of pitcher control problems. After one out, the Indians loaded the bases on a base hit, a walk and a hit batter.

A second hit batter brought one run around. With two down, a full-count walk brought the tying run across. And the game-winner scored on a wild pitch.

“Nena pitched well, but she struggled in one inning,” Mortier said. “Nena’s been rock-solid for us all year. One bad inning out of 80 innings isn’t bad. But it happens. Unfortunately it was a game in which we didn’t hit the ball that well. We hit it, but it was right at people. And give Molalla credit, they made the plays.”

The Gladiators managed only four hits off of Molalla pitcher Sierra Benson (4 strikeouts and 3 walks), who pitched a complete game.

Gladstone scored its only runs in the first inning. Dudley walked, stole second, and she scored when a Molalla defender threw the ball away on a sacrifice bunt by Megan Kirchem. Ashlee Muller followed with a double to bring Kirchem around.

The Gladiators stung the ball for 12 hits and accepted 15 free passes in the five-inning rout of Estacada.

Meghan Winkle (3-for-4) starred on offense, driving in five runs with a two-run double and a pair of base hits.

Kirchem pitched, striking out six and walking one in a no-hitter.

Estacada had only two base runners and the Rangers didn’t get anyone past first base.

The Gladiators outhit their hosts 10-2 in last week’s 2-0 win at Madras. The White Buffaloes had only two base runners and they had no runners left on base.

A Madras baserunner reached with a base hit with two down in the bottom of the fifth. But Gladstone catcher Ashlee Muller gunned the runner down stealing second.

A Madras baserunner also reached on a base hit in the sixth inning. However she was put out when a batter hit a line drive to Julie Schumaker at second and Schumaker doubled the baserunner off.

Dudley (9 strikeouts, no walks) was sharp in the circle, allowing just the two hits. And her teammates supported her with outstanding defense.

“The girls played great defense,” Mortier said. “Melisa Campos made a couple of backhand stops at third for groundouts. (Second baseman) Julia Schumaker caught a foul pop up behind first base on a dead run, and (shortstop) Megan Kirchem did the same behind third.”

The Gladiators scored the game’s only runs in the top of the fifth. Kirchem (3-for-4) and Muller reached on base hits and advanced on an error. Following an out on a force play at the plate, Kat Kerr (2-for-4) plated both runs with a base hit down the right-field line.

Entering play this week ranked second in the state (behind Banks), the Gladiators will secure a home game in the May 22 first round of the state playoffs, if they take care of business in this week’s league games. Should they falter, they’ll likely host a play-in game on Thursday, May 16.

Pitching and hitting have played huge roles in the Gladiators’ success story to date this season. Through play last week, and Gladiators sported a .344 team batting average, led by Dudley (.481, 28 runs scored, 11 extra-base hits), Kirchem (.455, 21 runs), Muller (.430, 28 RBI, 24 runs, 14 extra-base hits) and Schumaker (.418, 24 runs, 11 extra-base hits).

Kirchem had an 11-1 record and a 0.29 ERA, with 93 strikeouts and 15 walks in 73 innings; Dudley had a 10-1 record and a 0.58 ERA, with 131 strikeouts and 22 walks in 73 innings.

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