Forest Grove girls win four of their last five games to remain in the thick of the conference title chase
by: Chase Allgood, Forest Grove senior Natalie Sydenstricker slides safely into home plate ahead of the tag of Century pitcher Miranda Villarreal during last Friday’s Pacific Conference softball game.

By most standards, last week was wildly successful for the Forest Grove softball team, which won three games and remained in second place in the Pacific Conference standings. The one blemish, however, was a 4-3 upset loss to Newberg that likely knocked the Lady Vikings out of the conference title chase.

'It's hard to be upset about a week with three wins, but at the same time we were a little disappointed because a win (against Newberg) would have put us in position to catch Glencoe for first place,' said Forest Grove head coach Trevor Tusow.

Regardless, the Lady Vikings control their own fate as they roll into the final week of the season with two conference games left - one against fourth-place Tualatin and one against league-leading Glencoe.

Forest Grove (15-7, 9-3) is currently tied with Tigard for second place in the league standings, with Glencoe two games ahead in first. The top three teams earn automatic bids to the 6A state playoffs, while the rest of the league starts with play-in games on May 17.

'There's a lot riding on these games, but it's nice to know that we control our own destiny,' Tusow said. 'I'd rather have control over where we finish than have to rely on other teams winning or losing.'

The Lady Vikings began a long week by beating Tigard 3-2 in nine innings last Monday, avenging a loss to the Tigers earlier in the season. That was followed by a 12-0 mercy rule victory over Hillsboro on Tuesday, then a classic trap game against Newberg on Wednesday.

'We had three games in three days, starting off with a nine-inning win on Monday. I think we were all just emotionally spent,' Tusow said. 'Credit to Newberg - the longer they hang around, the better they get. They're a dangerous team.

'They had a lot of energy in the dugout and you could tell that they were fired up for the game.'

Taylor Lira gave Forest Grove an early 2-0 lead against Newberg with a two-run single in the top of the first inning, but the Tigers tied things up in the bottom of the second, then went ahead 4-2 on Jennifer Tautfest's two-run double in the fifth.

Forest Grove got one run back on Karla Broderson's sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth, but the Lady Vikings couldn't scratch out another run against Newberg pitcher Mikayla Kinnaman.

'In that first inning it looked like we were in business to score some runs, but we wound up just getting the two runs and then we didn't score again until the sixth,' Tusow said. 'It was a tough game, and one we definitely wish we could have won.'

The loss didn't diminish the Lady Vikings' other performances last week, especially Monday's dramatic ninth-inning rally to beat Tigard.

With runners on second and third following Natalie Sydenstricker's one-out double, junior Taylor Schmitt laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to score pinch runner Mary Hutchins from third, lifting Forest Grove to a 3-2 victory.

'That was a real tough, emotional game,' Tusow said. 'The girls were really excited for that one.'

Marissa Reichard got the win for the Lady Viks, striking out six batters and allowing four hits over nine innings. She also went 2-for-4 at the plate with a triple and a run scored, while Jory Gronseth was 2-for-4 with an RBI.

The next night, Forest Grove cruised to a 12-0 victory over Hillsboro, getting two hits apiece from Reichard and Taylor Lira, plus a 3-for-4 performance from Gronseth. Lira drove in two runs in the rout, as did Broderson.

Reichard split the pitching duties with sophomore Shelby Turner, and the two held the Spartans scoreless over five innings.

'We got lots of production from lots of people, top to bottom,' Tusow said.

The same was true on Friday, when the Lady Viks dished out a 10-0 drubbing of Century.

Allison Thorud sparked a six-run second inning with a bases-clearing single, and Hutchins jump-started a four-run rally in the sixth inning with a two-run single. Lira went 1-for-3 with two runs scored to highlight an emotional Senior Night for the Lady Vikings.

Now the focus will be on its final two conference games as Forest Grove tries to hold off Tigard for second place.

The Lady Vikings will play both games this week on the road, traveling to Tualatin on Tuesday and Glencoe on Thursday.

'Tualatin is always really tough at home,' Tusow said. 'Especially with how they've been playing lately, they're going to be a big challenge for us.'

The marquee game of the week will be Thursday's showdown with Glencoe, however. In their first meeting, Glencoe rallied for three runs in the top of the 11th inning to deny Forest Grove's upset bid and spoil a sizzling 16-strikeout performance from Reichard.

'That was quite the game and quite the experience,' Tusow said. 'It was a true pitcher's duel. That was a real tough game, so I know the girls are looking forward to the rematch.'

Forest Grove will also make up a non-league game against Aloha on Saturday as Tusow and his squad wait to see how the final league standings and 6A state playoff brackets shake out.

'We're playing pretty well, so I feel good about where we're at right now,' Tusow said.

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