Hounds lean on freshman phenom
Pressed into action after a season-ending injury to teammate Brielle Matson, Gaston freshman Haylie Davis has pitched the Lady Greyhounds into first place in the league standings and prime state playoff position
Gaston junior Brielle Matson was all set to step in this season and take over pitching duties for the Lady Greyhounds as they chased their second straight Northwest League softball championship and a sixth consecutive state playoff appearance.
It was a decidedly cruel twist, then, that Matson was lost for the season in Gaston's very first game, the hard-throwing junior pitcher breaking her tibia while covering home plate against Sheridan on March 19.
'I about fainted,' said first-year Gaston head coach Wally Lira, who watched the
injury unfold from the dugout at Sheridan High School. 'Brielle is a really good pitcher, and that was a tough break for us in the first game of the year.
'The silver lining has been Haylie.'
Lira is referring to freshman Haylie Davis, who stepped into Matson's shoes as the team's starting pitcher and has been lights out ever since, leading the Lady Hounds to a 12-1 record and first place in the Northwest League standings.
In two of her first starts of the year, Davis held Portland Christian to just one baserunner over 10 innings in a pair of mercy-rule victories, and she has guided Gaston to wins over Knappa, Nestucca and Vernonia in the last two weeks. Last week alone, Davis threw 40 total innings as the Lady Hounds chalked up six wins - 8-5, 9-5 and 6-4 against Knappa; 7-4 and 13-5 against
Nestucca; and 15-5 against Vernonia.
'She has really stepped up and been strong for us. She hardly ever gets rattled,' Lira said of Davis. 'We always tell the girls to be ready to step up when needed, and she's been phenomenal.'
The only blemish on Davis' record so far is a 5-4 loss to Vernonia on April 9, a game Lira described as 'a fluke.'
After beating the Loggers 10-0 in the first game of a doubleheader, Lira said his squad failed to show up for the second game and was saddled with its only loss of the season.
'The girls went out there kind of lackadaisical and we got beat,' Lira said. 'We used it as a teaching point - you can't just go out there and expect to win. Since that game we've looked really good.'
While Davis has certainly been sensational in the pitcher's circle, Lira points to his team's improved defense as a big reason for its success this season.
'Our defense is rock solid. Both infield and outfield, everyone is on the same page and knows their assignments,' he said. 'The girls are backing each other up, and that's what makes championship teams - being there for each other.
'It's all about trust and knowing that your teammates will be there to back you up. I told them I want to see them diving and going all out for balls, because even if you don't make the catch, there's always going to be someone behind you.'
With the regular season winding down and just three league games left, Gaston is virtually assured of locking up a state playoff bid, and the Hounds will attempt to boost their RPI rating -and evental playoff seeding - by playing a few tough non-league games over the final two weeks of the season.
Beginning next Tuesday, Gaston is scheduled to finish the year with games against Clatskanie (12-0), Perrydale (12-3), Dayton (15-4) and defending 2A/1A state champion Western Mennonite (8-3).
'We've got some big games lined up to hopefully boost our strength of schedule,' Lira said. 'Win or lose, it will help us regardless. At first the girls were a little nervous, but I said, 'You should be excited. This is your chance to see how you stack up against some pretty good teams.'