Banks overcomes a long trip to Klamath Falls and posts a 3-1 victory over upstart Mazama
Banks softball coach Jenny Compton doesn't feel pressure very often, and that's understandable. After all, her team had won 74 of its last 83 games dating back to the start of the 2010 season, when the Braves made a memorable run to the state finals.
But during last week's six-hour bus ride to Klamath Falls for a showdown with Mazama in the Class 4A state semifinals, she couldn't help but notice the butterflies in her stomach.
'Before the Mazama game I had the worst nerves ever. I just felt so much nervous energy,' Compton said. 'I was so afraid of losing and not being able to get back to the championship game.'
Luckily, Compton was the only one who felt that way. Her Banks team was as composed as ever, and the Lady Braves posted a businesslike 3-1 victory over Mazama to earn a return trip to the 4A state title game.
Melissa Masters scattered six hits and struck out nine to earn her 11th victory of the season, and she got some early run support as the Braves powered past the 10th-ranked Vikings on their home field.
'I didn't get any feeling from the girls that they were nervous before the game,' Compton said. 'They approached the game the same way they approached every game this season - just take it one pitch, one out, one inning at a time.
'They weren't thinking about the next game. They were just thinking about what they needed to do to beat Mazama.'
Banks (24-4) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Lexi Chung and Madison Soper reached base on a pair of Mazama fielding errors, and Aubrey Rue moved the runners to second and third with a fielder's choice to the right side of the infield.
On a team loaded with seniors and juniors, it was a freshman that delivered the first blow of the game, with Hannah Vandomelen driving a double to deep center field, scoring both Chung and Soper to give Banks an early lead.
The Braves tacked on an insurance run in the third, with Kaylin Vandomelen smashing a leadoff double off the third baseman's foot and Marla Gooding bringing her home with an RBI single to left field, giving Banks a 3-0 cushion.
Mazama (18-8) responded with a run in the bottom of the fifth to cut the lead to 3-1, and the Vikings put a runner on third base with two outs before Banks was able to wriggle out of the jam.
Mazama threatened again with leadoff singles in the sixth and seventh innings, but Masters was able to pitch her way out of trouble both times and send the Lady Braves to the state championship game for the second time in three years.
'I think I did finally start relaxing after the game,' Compton said. 'Tuesday night on the way home I really started to relax, and by the time I got home I was already thinking about what we needed to do against Cascade.'
The victory earned Banks a rematch with fourth-ranked Cascade (24-4), the team that beat them in the 2010 state championship game. The Cougars defended their title in 2011, making them back-to-back state champs and putting Banks in a rare position as underdogs.
'You know, I don't think it mattered who the opponent was,' Compton said. 'These girls were just so focused all year long. They never looked past an opponent or took anything for granted. I knew they would approach that game the same way they approached every game all year long.'