Banks takes the inside track to a league title with a pair of wins over Yamhill-Carlton

The Banks softball team finally got some competition last week.

After recording double-digit wins in each of their previous four games, the Lady Braves finally faced a stiffer test when they squared off against Yamhill-Carlton in a home doubleheader on Thursday.

Behind some solid pitching by Kaylin VanDomelen and MaKenna Partain, a play-making defense and a well-balanced offense, Banks strengthened its hold on first place in the Cowapa League with a pair of matching 4-0 victories against the second-place Tigers.

“We played like a team,” senior second baseman Riley Gerlinger said. “Everyone did their part and did their job on the field.”

Heading into this week, the Lady Braves upped their record to 17-2 overall and 9-0 in the Cowapa. Yamhill-Carlton dropped to 10-7 overall and 6-3 in league play.

“It was a very good challenge for our offense, because (Yamhill-Carlton’s) pitching is very strong,” Banks coach Jenny Compton said, noting that her squad struck out 11 times against Y-C pitcher Molly Smith in the first game, “which is about 10 more than we usually do. ... It just goes to show you how good of a pitcher we were facing.”

That said, the No. 1-ranked Braves still got their bats going early in the first game, especially Partain, who had all four RBIs in the contest. The freshman shortstop/pitcher put the home team on the scoreboard with a home run in the bottom of the first inning, also scoring Lexi Chung, who had earlier reached base on an error.

Two innings later, Hannah VanDomelen notched a base hit with one out, older sister Kaylin reached base on a fielder’s choice, and then both runners advanced a base on a passed ball. Partain, who had two of the team’s six hits in the game, then smacked a two-RBI double to drive in the VanDomelen sisters.

On the pitcher’s mound, Kaylin VanDomelen went the distance against the No. 6 Tigers in a two-hitter, striking out 13 batters with no walks.

“I actually think that was one of my better games all year,” VanDomelen said, referencing her pitching performance in both games on Thursday. “In the second game, you could tell I was getting tired, struggled to get ahead, but I think I still worked pretty well.”

In the nightcap, the Braves once again struck in the first inning, this time on a score by Hannah VanDomelen, and then they doubled their advantage with a second run in the bottom of the fourth. Partain started the inning with a walk, and then advanced two bases on Madison Soper’s sacrifice bunt and Megan Bunn’s single over the pitcher’s head. Molly Hammond earned the RBI with a squeeze bunt that brought Partain home.

One and a half innings later and with the score still 2-0, Gerlinger made perhaps the play of the day at a crucial point in the game. The Tigers had runners at second and third base with two outs when Chelse Frank made contact with a Partain pitch. With the ball curving away from her toward the right field line, Gerlinger — at a dead sprint and with her left arm fully extended — somehow snagged the ball out of the air to rob Frank of a hit and at least one RBI.

“Seriously, I think I peed my pants a little when she made that catch, I kid you not,” said Kaylin VanDomelen, who was playing in left field at the time. “I play in the summer a lot with people that make some pretty good plays, but Riley’s one of the best that I play with.”

With Gerlinger’s catch helping to keep the Braves’ shutout intact, they immediately responded with two more runs in the bottom half of the sixth.

Partain got her short game going with a bunt, followed by yet another sacrifice bunt by Soper in the next at-bat. Then JoJo Wren laced a triple to left field, scoring Partain, and Kindel Bailey — filling in at third base for injured senior Courtney Engeseth — knocked a single to center field to bring in Wren.

“It’s nice knowing that everyone in your lineup has something they can do,” said Kaylin VanDomelen, who earned the win before yielding to Partain midway through the contest. “With our lineup, everyone is a threat, and that’s really hard to pitch to.”

VanDomelen and Partain combined for 12 strikeouts and six hits in the contest, with Partain picking up the save.

About three quarters of the way through the regular season, Compton feels things are coming together for her team, which includes several different pieces compared with last year’s state championship squad.

“The girls are really jelling very, very well together,” Compton said. “We’re seeing different contributions ... producing runs in different manners, so that’s really good. The girls are doing what is needed offensively to sacrifice themselves if need be or to do whatever in order to help produce those runs.”

The Braves are scheduled to play on the road for their next four contests. They are slated to play a doubleheader at Astoria on Friday, followed by a game at Seaside next Tuesday and another at Rainier on Wednesday.

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