The Kingsmen drop West Albany in extra innings, advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1995

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Putnam senior Taylor Balfour (9) is all smiles as she is greeted by Maggie Waymire after scoring a run in last weeks 3-1 state playoff win over Churchill. Balfour went 2-for-2 in the game, with a triple.Last week was a huge week for Rex Putnam High School’s softball program.

With state playoff wins over Churchill (3-1) and West Albany (2-1 in 10 innings), the Kingsmen advanced to the semifinals of the Class 5A state high school playoffs.

Last Friday’s extra-inning win over fourth-ranked West Albany ended a quarterfinal playoff jinx that had stretched over 18 seasons. The Kingsmen had made it as far as the quarterfinals seven times since 1995, but the last time they made it past a quarterfinal was in 1995, when they went on to defeat Centennial in the big-school state final.

“That’s probably true [that a Putnam team hasn’t reached the semifinals since 1995],” said Putnam coach Tiffany Strnad, who took over as head coach in 2005. “I know it hasn’t happened since I’ve been here. It’s great to finally break that quarterfinal jinx!”

Strnad had teams lose in the quarterfinals in 2011 and in 2012.

Strnad says that it’s been a mix of senior leadership, the naivete of younger players and hard work that has brought the Kingsmen success this season.

“While the older players know the history, the younger players don’t,” said Strnad. “They’re used to winning in ASA ball and I don’t think they were aware of the jinx at the high school. We’ve had some great leadership by action through our seniors. It’s their last year, they want to win and they’re doing everything they can to make it happen.”

Strnad sited senior Ashley Culp as just one example of the senior leadership.

“Ashley’s done a lot of hard work to make her game better and she’s really improved over last year,” Strnad said. “She’s had nine or 10 home runs this year, including a grand slam, and she’s our RBI leader.”

Culp was money in last week’s 3-1 playoff win over Churchill, driving in all three Putnam runs. The Kingsmen led through the entire game, scoring one run in the first frame and two more in the fifth.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Sarah Abramson (with facemask) was at the top of her game on May 28, as she threw a 3-hitter in a 3-1 win over Churchill. The Kingsmen freshman right-hander had 12 strikeouts and Churchills only run was unearned. Pictured with Abramson during the Churchill game are (from left) Maggie Waymire, Taylor Balfour, Mariah Oliver and Brooke Snyder.Senior Taylor Balfour got things started in the first with a one-out triple, and Culp followed with a run-scoring single.

Junior Kate Betschart and Balfour put the ball in play and got on base in the fifth, and Culp brought them around with a two-run single.

Culp (2-for-2), Balfour (2-for-2) and freshman pitcher Sarah Abramson (2-for-2) led the Kingsmen in an eight-hit attack against the Lancers.

Abramson was sharp in the circle, striking out 12 and walking three, while yielding just three hits.

Last Friday’s quarterfinal at West Albany was a pitchers’ duel.

Abramson struck out nine and walked two, while scattering eight hits in 10 innings.

West Albany sophomore left-hander Kelsey Broadus struck out 12, walked one and allowed only six hits.

The Kingsmen executed their short game in the top of the tenth and then played defense in the bottom of the frame to earn the win.

Using the international tiebreaker, where the last out of the previous inning starts the tenth inning on second base, Putnam began the inning with freshman courtesy runner Justice Duval — standing in for Abramson — on second.

Senior Lauren Roberts laid down a picture-perfect bunt to move Duval to third. Duval then slid under the tag at the plate on a squeeze bunt by Betschart to score the winning run.

Betschart in centerfield and Balfour at shortstop got it done on defense in the bottom of the tenth. Betschart collected a fly ball in deep centerfield and got the ball in quickly enough to hold the runner at second base. Following a walk, Balfour fielded a ground ball cleanly and made the play for a force out at third.

Clean-up hitter Julia Smith-Harrington was next up for the Bulldogs. She crushed a long fly ball to centerfield, but Balfour chased it down and made the catch, ending the inning and the game.

West Albany scored its only run in the third inning, on a walk, a base hit and a RBI-double.

Putnam used aggressive baserunning to tie things up with a single tally in the top of the fourth. Balfour reached on a base hit, stole second and advanced to third base on a base hit by junior Maggie Waymire. With two outs, Balfour and Waymire then attempted a first-and-third steal. West Albany’s catcher overthrew second base, and Balfour dashed home for the tying run.

Putnam (21-7, 12-2) was to host Northwest Oregon Conference co-champion St. Helens (19-8, 12-2) in a semifinal game on Tuesday (June 3), with the winner advancing to Saturday’s Class 5A championship final at Oregon State University.

The two teams split in league play, with Putnam winning 5-2 in a home game on May 14, after losing 1-0 earlier in the season. Putnam was ranked fifth and St. Helens was ranked eighth in the final OSAA RPI rankings.

“There’s a lot riding on that game,” said Strnad. “We tied as league co-champions and I think we’re two pretty evenly matched teams. They’re ranked lower than us, but that doesn’t mean anything. They were without their best pitcher until the second half of the season. It should be a great game!”

Second-ranked Hood River (22-6) and third-ranked Pendleton (22-6) were to meet in the other Class 5A semifinal. Putnam lost to Pendleton 10-7 in a March 25 preseason game.

In last week’s playoff games, St. Helens dropped top-ranked Sandy 1-0 in eight innings, and ninth-ranked Marist 5-1.

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