The bottom of the lineup produces in Gladstones 2-0 quarterfinal win over Sutherlin

GLADSTONE — There were three unsuspected heroines for the Gladstone Gladiators on May 24, as Gladstone shut down Far West League champion Sutherlin, winning 2-0 in a quarterfinal game of the Class 4A state high school softball playoffs.

With the game a scoreless tie, the seventh, eighth and ninth batters in Gladstone’s lineup strung three hits together — following a 15-minute rain delay — to gain the Gladiators their winning margin.

Junior first baseman Meghan Winkle got things started with a single to right-center. Junior outfielder Erica Ward singled up the middle; and Ward and junior pinch runner Ashley Hale advanced on a passed ball.

Sophomore outfielder Molly Webster then hammered the ball to the fence in left-center, and Hale and Ward scampered home for the game’s only runs.

Asked where the pitch was that she drove for the game-winner, Webster said, “I don’t really know. I just go up there and try to hit. I was thinking about getting a single.”

Gladstone co-captain Megan Kirchem said she wasn’t at all surprised that it was the bottom of Gladstone’s lineup that produced on offense.

“We hit all through our lineup, but recently it’s been the middle to the end of our lineup that’s been getting our hits,” Kirchem said.

The Gladiators only struck out twice, but they struggled all game long to hit the ball to the outfield, and Sutherlin pitcher Cheylin Molinoff (6 hits) didn’t issue any free passes.

But the Gladiators played error-free defense behind junior Nena Dudley, who was at the top of her game.

Dudley struck out 12, walked no one and gave up just two hits, both of them doubles to Sutherlin shortstop Kelsea Knee (2-for-3).

Knee doubled in the second inning, but was left stranded at second when the next two batters struck out. And Knee doubled with two down in the seventh, but was left stranded when Gladstone sophomore third baseman Melissa Campos fielded a ground ball and made the play at first to retire the side and end the game.

Webster (2-for-2) was the only Gladiator to get more than one hit. Freshman outfielder Katarina Kerr had a double.

Many fans were surprised that the visiting Bulldogs gave Gladstone a game, because Gladstone had defeated Sutherlin 10-0 in preseason.

“In our preseason, we were still figuring out where people were going to play,” said Knee. “We’ve improved a lot since then, plus this time we really wanted it....

“We’ve got 10 seniors on the team, this is our fourth time in the playoffs, and it’s the furthest we’ve ever gone [in the playoffs].”

Knee explained her teammates’ difficulty in hitting Dudley’s pitches: “She pitches a lot faster than we’re used to. We had to turn up the pitching machine in practice. We don’t have anyone in our league who pitches that fast.”

“I pitch all through the off season, every Sunday, and twice a week when I can get the gym....,” Dudley said. “I work on my spin every day.”

Dudley said she’s got a curve ball, a rise, a drop, a screwball and a change-up, and she can throw all five pitches for strikes.

Asked what it means to be one of only three Gladstone teams to ever make the semifinals, Dudley said, “It’s an honor to be a part of it. We’ve worked really hard for this....”

“There’s no word to explain how much this means,” Webster said. “It’s like a big achievement. We’ve been working for this the whole year.”

“It means so much, because for the past two years we’ve been working so hard to get to this point,” said Kirchem. “We’ve had a goal of playing [in the state championship game on] on June 1, and we’re getting close.”

“Our pitchers set the tone,” said senior captain Ashlee Muller. “If your pitchers are on, your defense is on. Our pitchers have been working really hard and we’ve got to continue to work really hard. We’ve got to do it for our pitchers.”

Sutherlin finished 17-9 on the season with the loss. The Bulldogs’ loss to Gladstone snapped a win string at nine games.

With the win, Gladstone advanced to a May 28 semifinal game with fourth-ranked McLoughlin (23-6). McLoughlin topped Tri-Valley Conference champion and fifth-ranked Molalla 2-1 in a May 24 quarterfinal game at McLoughlin. Molalla, which lost two of three league games to Gladstone, finished up with an overall record of 20-5.

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