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Braves raise another trophy

Banks captures its third softball state title in five seasons with a 5-2 win over McLoughlin


CORVALLIS — Banks softball has been defying expectations all year.

So why would the Braves do anything different with a state championship on the line?NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Banks celebrates their state softball victory.

In fact, they didn’t, as they continued a season-long trend of rising to the occasion on a swelteringly hot Saturday afternoon at the OSU Softball Complex. Buoyed by a four-run second inning, a gritty pitching performance from Michaela Shaw and a stout defense, Banks defeated top-seeded McLoughlin, 5-2, to claim the Class 4A state title, the program’s third in five seasons.

“Just the approach that these girls have had, fighting with graduation and end of school and their summer teams starting to call for them to come to practice, I really thought we might lose focus, but they were dialed in and they were hungry to make this happen,” Braves head coach James Wise said.

Saturday’s matchup was a rematch between the two reigning juggernauts of Class 4A. Banks (23-3) went back-to-back in 2012 and 2013, while McLoughlin (25-6) was taking aim at its third consecutive title. Each program had beaten the other once in title games during that span, as the Braves knocked off the Pioneers, 1-0, in 2013, while McLoughlin won, 4-0, at Banks’ expense last year.

“Definitely, it’s always nice to beat the person who beats you,” noted senior shortstop MaKenna Partain, who also played on the 2013 championship team. “I definitely enjoyed that.

“It’s nice to play them, though, because you know it’s always going to be a good game. That’s what I love about it.”

News-Times photos: Zack Palmer

While the final was a rematch, both teams had different looks this year, perhaps especially the Braves. They entered this spring with a rather green pitching staff, a new head coach in Wise and only a few veterans back from last year’s state runner-up squad. Meanwhile, McLoughlin returned a number of key players, but not the pitcher, Colette Robert, who had led the way to two straight titles before graduating last year.

But after growing together all season, the No. 3 Braves were ready for this rubber match. After scoring four runs in the second, they added a fifth in the third and then held off the Pioneers, who put up both of their runs in the seventh while trying to rally.

But thanks to the quick early start, Banks spent most of the game in the driver’s seat and took a lot of the pressure off of itself.

“Especially our freshman pitcher,” Partain said, referring to Shaw. “Getting that pressure off of her and allowing her to throw things that necessarily weren’t on the plate and getting them to fool the batters a little bit, I think that helped us a lot.”

The first inning was a sign of what was to come, as the Braves started making contact on Pioneers starting pitcher Mallory Copeland almost from the get-go. Mary Schorn sent a single up the third-base line and two of her teammates made contact on groundouts.

In the end, Schorn’s presence proved pivotal. She sat out a nonleague game on McLoughlin’s home turf in Milton-Freewater back on April 2 due to an injury. As a result, the Braves had to do some shuffling of their lineup and lost, 5-4.

On Saturday, Schorn went a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate with a run scored, and she also made some notable plays on defense.

“It was good. No one expected us to come this far,” Schorn said. “Being the underdogs, coming on strong, rematch of last year, we really wanted it this year, so it was just game time.”

News-Times photos: Amanda Miles

Going back to that second inning, it was a thing of beauty for the Banks faithful. Shakayla Snyder, who had a big day at the plate with three hits and an RBI, started the frame with a bloop single over third base. Her courtesy runner, Destiny Maller, moved to third after Katie Ragsdale bunted and reached base on a McLoughlin throwing error. Then Emma McCourt hit into a fielder’s choice at first, advancing Ragsdale to second.

Then it got a little crazy, as Alyssa Rogers hit an RBI single up the middle to plate Maller, and Ragsdale scored on another Pioneers throwing error for a 2-0 lead.

With Rogers standing on third thanks to that second error, Partain stepped to the plate — and not just in the literal sense. The senior blasted an RBI triple to right-center to bring in Ragsdale, and then she scored on Keegan Wise’s base hit, before Wise was caught trying to stretch that single into a double.

Still, with Banks breaking open the contest so early, the damage had been done. The four runs would turn out to be all that the Braves would need, but they did add one more in the third. Schorn kicked off the inning with a double nearly back to the fence in left-center, and Snyder hit her in with a knock to right field.

“The fact that we were able to put five on early, you saw our defense settle in,” James Wise said. “There were several innings that they were starting to put some pressure on us with runners in scoring position, and we knew how to do the right things at the right time. They just really rallied around each other, especially around our pitcher, and made it happen.”

The five runs gave Shaw — a freshman who has emerged over the course of the season as the team’s go-to pitcher — plenty of breathing room. Other than against Abigail Biggs, who finished with three hits for McLoughlin, Shaw did a great job of keeping the Pioneers’ lineup off balance.

And for pretty much the entire game, when McLoughlin did produce at the plate, the Banks defense was there to back up Shaw. The Pioneers didn’t record their first hit of the game until the third inning, when Biggs bombed a double to right-center. But after she moved to third on a passed ball, the Braves recorded three consecutive outs — and the second came when Biggs was caught off the bag and Partain made her pay for it with a tag.

McLoughlin started turning up the heat in the sixth when Shannon Carter and Micha Fortune both bunted safely with no outs and each advanced a base on a wild pitch. But the Braves rallied with a big play, as Copeland hit into a 4-2 fielder’s choice, with Snyder laying a tag on the onrushing Carter near home plate for a big out. After that, Brooke Kralman and Sydney Richwine hit into consecutive flyouts, so Banks took that 5-0 lead into the seventh.

The Pioneers did make the Braves earn it in that final inning. Biggs led off the bottom half with a single past Partain, and then Brittany Erb knocked a double to left field. Jenny Field broke up the shutout with a single to shallow center to score Biggs, and then Rachael Lyon hit a sacrifice fly to center, giving Erb enough time to slide home for a second tally.

But those runs were all McLoughlin would get, as Shaw got Carter to strike out swinging and then Fortune hit a groundout to shortstop. After McCourt caught the ball at first, Shaw and Snyder rushed each other, and the rest of the Braves streaked over to join them.

“Honestly, everything kind of went in slow motion, and I have this moment where I knew we were going to get that out, I knew we were about to win, and as soon as Emma caught the ball at first, I just felt so excited and I ran up and hugged Shakayla,” Shaw said.

It was perhaps fitting that Partain had a part in that final play, which capped both an incredible high school career and a busy 24 hours for the Minnesota-bound star. Partain participated in Banks’ high school graduation ceremony on Friday evening, enjoyed part of the senior all-night grad party before turning in at about 1 a.m. Saturday morning, and then won her second softball state championship in the afternoon. That raised her total to three overall, as she also played on Banks’ state-title winning volleyball team this past fall, as did Schorn.

Shaw finished the game with three strikeouts, eight hits and no walks. Copeland lasted only three innings for McLoughlin after giving up eight hits and five runs. Sydney Earls threw the final four innings, allowing a hit and striking out one.