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Twice as nice


Banks wins its second straight state title with a 1-0 victory over McLoughlin

News-Times PhotoCORVALLIS — Banks senior Kaylin VanDomelen was a freshman in 2010 when the Lady Braves’ softball season unraveled three outs short of a state championship.

She was not going to let that happen again.

VanDomelen capped a masterful pitching performance on Saturday with back-to-back strikeouts in the seventh inning, securing a tense 1-0 victory over McLoughlin in the finals of the Class 4A state playoffs at the Oregon State Softball Complex and lifting the Lady Braves to their second consecutive state championship.

“I didn’t let myself think about it because I didn’t want to jinx anything,” VanDomelen said about her memories of the 2010 season, which ended in heartbreak when Cascade rallied to beat Banks with two runs in the final inning.

“It’s never over. I learned that my freshman year. In the top of the seventh, I just told my team, ‘It’s not over yet. They’re still fighting. Just take it one (out) at a time.’”

VanDomelen did just that in the seventh inning Saturday, inducing a groundout from Megan Reed, then striking out Cheyenne Kessler and Meghan Kimball to cap a one-hit shutout of McLoughlin (24-7) and send the Lady Braves into a euphoric postgame celebration.

“It was definitely a sense of déjà vu — it felt very reflective of the 2010 title game,” said Banks head coach Jenny Compton, who watched from the dugout three years ago as the Braves squandered a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh against Cascade.

“I don’t know whose brain that wasn’t kicking around in. You’re a little unsure and a little bit fearful. That seventh inning was very surreal, knowing that we only had three outs left. Every pitch you kind of held your breath to see what was going to happen next, and every out you felt a little bit of relief. When we got that last out it was just an incredible feeling.”

The victory made it two state titles in a row for Banks (29-2), which got some revenge against Cascade with a 2-0 win in last year’s championship game, and it marked the end of a remarkable four-year run in which the Braves win 104 games and four straight Cowapa League titles.

“I feel excited,” said senior Lexi Chung, a four-year starter. “I’m so happy that we could get back here again and this time for our senior year, so it’s great to leave on that good of a memory.”

“This is the best way to end it,” said senior Riley Gerlinger, another four-year starter. “You can’t go out a better way.”

For VanDomelen, Saturday’s win was extra special because she got to share it with her close friends and fellow seniors.

“It was a different team this year, and to me it means more,” she said. “It was our team — Riley, Lexi, Courtney (Engeseth) and me. It was great. I can’t imagine playing with anyone else.

“We’ve played softball (together) since we were in sixth grade. It’s been that older group that just graduated and our group intermixed the whole time. So it was nice that we got to do it by ourselves. It was awesome.”

VanDomelen struck out 11 batters in the championship game on Saturday, allowing only one hit along the way — a first-inning flare that dropped just beyond the reach of a diving MaKenna Partain. VanDomelen got out of that inning with a strikeout, and she didn’t allow a ball to leave the infield the rest of the game.

“Kaylin was dominant,” Compton said afterward. “She pitched the game we needed her to pitch. She was incredible.”

Banks leaned on its sensational senior in the pitcher’s circle, but at the plate it was a freshman who sparked the offense and scored the game’s only run.

Partain, who posted some staggering numbers in her first season of varsity softball, led off the fifth inning with a double into the left field corner. With one out, junior Molly Hammond hit a slow roller back to McLoughlin pitcher Colette Robert, but her throw sailed over the head of first baseman Makayla Kelly and Partain raced home with what proved to be the winning run.

“Once we got that run, I was like, ‘Oh good, now we at least have one. Let’s get some more,’” VanDomelen said.

The Lady Braves very nearly added a second run later in the inning when freshman Megan Bunn looped a one-out single down the right field line. JoJo Wren, who entered the game as a pinch runner for Hammond, came around third base and headed for home, but she was thrown out at the plate to cut short Banks’ rally.

It was all VanDomelen after that. The senior wriggled out of a jam in the bottom of the fifth when a throwing error put a runner on second base with one out, and she finished off the game with a pair of 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh, getting strong defensive support from her teammates.

“The (last) three innings it was just kind of like, ‘Do my job. Do my job and they’ll do their job and then we’ll be done,’” she said.

For her performance, VanDomelen was selected as the state championship Player of the Game, and afterward she was also named the Class 4A State Pitcher of the Year (see story on page B4).

“I don’t know how to explain it,” VanDomelen said of her outstanding effort in the pitcher’s circle. “You just depend on your team for so long that it’s weird when you’re doing it for them. Not that they weren’t doing their jobs as well, but I was feeling pretty good today and so it was nice to be able to help them out because they’ve helped me out a lot.”

The Braves tried to build on their 1-0 lead in the game’s later innings, putting runners on base in both the sixth and seventh, but Robert did a good job of keeping Banks off the scoreboard.

In the top of the sixth, Chung slapped a one-out single up the middle and VanDomelen followed two batters later with a hard shot to center field, but McLoughlin outfielder Brianna Crewse ran it down for the final out of the inning.

In the seventh, Madison Soper hit a bloop double to left field with one out and Hammond advanced pinch runner Tiffany Snyder with a fielder’s choice, but Bunn grounded out to end the inning.

“It was a very tough game,” Chung said. “Their pitcher was very good, too. Both pitchers, they pitched their hearts out.”

Robert allowed only four hits all game — one each to Chung, Partain, Soper and Bunn — and struck out six batters in the hard-luck loss.

After the game, Compton and her seniors all agreed that repeating as state champions was an unforgettable accomplishment.

“Somebody asked me if the second title is as sweet as the first one,” Compton recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know, but it’s pretty darn sweet!’

“The first one is always the sweetest, but the second one is amazingly special. To be able to come back and defend our title and do it again is pretty special.”

“It’s a great feeling, knowing that you have teammates that are willing to just work their hardest, whether it’s from freshmen to a senior,” Chung said. “And so it’s really (nice) to have a team like that.”

Said Gerlinger: “I think it might mean just that much more, since we were seniors. This season was amazing. We really got close this season and were a team, and it was so much fun. I’m sad that it’s over.”

One of the hallmarks of this year’s team was its ability to never look past an opponent, to never daydream about the future without taking care of business in the present. Compton said that skill was crucial in allowing the Braves to repeat as state champs.

“Both last year and this year, everybody was able to adopt the one-game-at-a-time, one-pitch-at-a-time mentality,” she said. “If you spend too much time looking at your long-term goals, you can miss the ride along the way.”

That was a lesson the Braves learned the hard way, advancing all the way to the state title game in 2010 only to lose in the final inning, then missing the postseason altogether after dropping a play-in game against Molalla in 2011.

“I learned a lot from that Molalla game and the 2011 season, and I think the girls did too,” Compton said. “The girls probably look at it as a blessing in disguise. After that game we all felt miserable, like ‘How did that happen?’

“It kind of broke our spirit a little bit, but the girls recovered from that and learned some important lessons. You can’t look past anybody. You’ve just got to focus on your next opponent and make sure you’re doing everything you can to get ready for that opponent. You can’t take anything for granted.”

That was especially true this year, when — as the defending state champions — the Lady Braves went into every game knowing they would get an opponent’s best effort.

“People have been gunning for us for a long time. When you have that target on your back, you know everybody is coming for you,” Compton said. “Winning a championship is one thing, but to be able to come back and defend it is another.

“I was really happy for these girls, and I was happy for the school and the fans and everybody who supported us.”

And if winning a state championship wasn’t special enough, Compton got to do it for her alma mater and the town where she’s been playing and coaching softball for virtually her entire life.

“It’s really nice to have established that softball tradition in Banks again,” she said. “For me, I could never coach anywhere else but Banks. I could never go to another high school and coach. I just couldn’t.

“This is my alma mater and my softball home. Winning this title is incredibly meaningful for me.”