Reigning state champs misfire in conference losses to McMinnville and Tigard
by: Zack Palmer, Forest Grove freshman Kristi Vandebergh slides into third base as the ball gets past McMinnville shortstop Alyssa Nichols.

If Forest Grove was out to prove it was more than the third-best softball team in the Pacific Conference, the Lady Vikings didn't do themselves any favors by losing two of their first four conference games.

Last Thursday the Lady Viks were stung 3-0 by Tigard, then on Monday the team turned in a sloppy effort in a 2-1 loss to league-leading McMinnville.

'It was just a lack of execution. It's the second time it's happened and it's the second time we've lost because of it,' said Forest Grove head coach Ole Evenson. 'In reality, we're good enough to be undefeated right now, but because of how we've executed, we're 2-2.'

Last week's loss to Tigard (8-4, 1-3) should have been a wake-up call, but the Lady Vikings hit the snooze button on Monday against McMinnville (13-1, 4-0), giving away two cheap runs in the top of the first. With Mac ace Anna Bertrand in complete control on the mound, Forest Grove never recovered.

Bertrand struck out 13 batters and allowed only one hit all game - Forest Grove's lone run came courtesy of back-to-back McMinnville errors in the fifth inning.

'Losing isn't as painful as our lack of execution,' Evenson said. 'They're a great team and [Bertrand] is a great pitcher - probably the best pitcher in the state, in my opinion - but that's not an excuse.'

The good news for Forest Grove softball fans was that the Lady Vikings (9-4, 2-2) took care of business in their other two conference games last week.

Forest Grove clipped Tualatin 2-1 on Monday and clubbed Newberg 8-0 on Friday. Still, those wins did little to assuage Evenson's frustration.

'I don't think we have enough kids putting pressure on the other kids to perform,' he said. 'Last year in our last six games, including the playoffs, we made two errors. We had three errors against Mac alone. Against Tigard we had two errors, but we had at least four mental errors - things that don't show up in the scorebook; just poor decisions.'

Forest Grove ace Emma Gronseth went toe-to-toe with Bertrand on Monday, striking out eight and allowing five hits in seven innings of work. Neither pitcher gave up an earned run.

Mac's two runs came in the top of the first. A fielding error put Britnee Neihus on base with one out and Alyssa Nichols followed with a walk. The Grizzlies successfully executed a double steal and a Forest Grove throwing error on the play allowed Neihus to score. Two batters later, Gaylynn Doran smacked an RBI single through the left side of the infield for a 2-0 McMinnville lead.

Forest Grove's only run came in the fifth. Freshman Kristi Vandebergh reached base on an error and alertly took second on the play. She stole third base and scored when the throw got away from Nichols.

The Lady Vikings' last good chance to tie the game came in the bottom of the sixth when Claire Van Domelen singled, stole second and moved to third on a bunt. But Bertrand pitched out of the jam by inducing an inning-ending groundout from Krystal Huffman.

'We didn't execute our game plan,' Evenson said. 'The one time we did we got a base hit. Claire did what we told everybody to do. We said, 'You're going to get an outside pitch. Stay on it and drive it to the right side.' The only times we hit the ball to the right side all game were Claire's hit and Kristi's ground ball that eventually led to our run.'

The Tigard loss stung even more because Evenson saw immaturity from a team he hoped would be more composed after winning a state championship last year.

'We gave them that game with silly mistakes,' Evenson said. 'The whole pregame was unfocused and childish. Against Mac, we had a good pregame but we just didn't keep up that intensity. We need to maintain that intensity the entire game, regardless of the opponent.'

Forest Grove now sits two games behind McMinnville and one game behind Tualatin in the Pacific Conference standings. If the Lady Vikings hope to contend for a league championship, they will have to right the ship and do it quickly - they have road games this week against Canby and Tualatin.

'We need to get these next two,' Evenson said. 'If we fall to 2-4 or even 3-3, that's going to make it a lot tougher on us.'

Forest Grove travels to Canby (9-5, 2-2) today, then wraps up the week with a road trip to Tualatin (6-7, 3-1) on Friday.

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