Henley avenges two prior playoff losses to the Lady Braves with a dramatic 4-3 victory in the Class 4A state semifinals

Henley softball players celebrate their 4-3 victory over Banks, the two-time defending state champions, in the semifinals of the Class 4A playoffs last Tuesday in Klamath Falls.

KLAMATH FALLS — For a moment, it looked as if Banks had the mojo to pull off one more dramatic playoff victory.

Henley wasn’t about to let that happen.

In the semifinals of the Class 4A softball state playoffs last Tuesday, ninth-seeded Banks fell behind early but surged ahead of No. 4 Henley on MaKenna Partain’s two-run home run in the fifth inning. That shot energized the visitors’ dugout and had the Lady Braves on the verge of making their third straight state title game appearance, but the Hornets’ answer was swift and decisive.

Henley (25-5) capitalized on two Banks mistakes in the bottom of the fifth — an error and a hit batter — to plate two runs and regain the lead, and the Hornets added an insurance score in the sixth that was crucial in a 4-3 victory that ended the Braves’ season.

“It was a great game — very exciting,” Banks coach Jenny Compton said. “It was just a bunch of little things that hurt us. A little miscue here, a little miscue there can really make a difference at the end of the day.

“We just didn’t execute enough when we needed to. We came up short.”

For Banks (23-4), the two-time defending state champion, Tuesday’s loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but the Braves gave Henley a run for its money.

The Hornets drew first blood in the bottom of the third. Freshman catcher McKenna Armantrout laced a leadoff double, then stole third base and came home on McKenzie Brown’s sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.

Banks put runners in scoring position in the first, third and fourth innings but couldn’t scratch out a run against Henley starter Kelly Scott. Partain changed that in the top of the fifth when she turned on a pitch and drove it over the fence in right-center field. That blast scored Hannah VanDomelen, who had reached base on an infield single, and gave Banks a 2-1 lead.

“That was great. It was a really big hit,” Compton said. “She’s been there all year either scoring runs or helping us score runs, so it was really nice for (MaKenna) to have such a good game.”(Image is Clickable Link) by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: ZACK PALMER - Banks junior Hannah VanDomelen celebrates after MaKenna Partain's two-run home run in the fifth inning of last Tuesday's playoff game.

Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last long.

In the bottom of the frame, Henley senior Tara Moates was hit by a pitch with one out, and the next batter, Brown, lofted a high fly ball that was misplayed in center field, putting two runners aboard.

Henley freshman Jess Pettigrew tied the score with an RBI single to left field, and two batters later senior Sam Vezo put the home team ahead with an RBI single to center.

“I don’t know what happened,” Compton said of the error that opened the door for the Hornets in the bottom of the fifth. “Her first path to the ball looked perfect, but then she just lost it.

“Henley’s only defensive error was in the second inning and it didn’t amount to anything. Their error didn’t hurt them, but our error cost us two runs. Mistakes can hurt you a lot or not at all.”

One inning later, Moates ripped an RBI double into the gap in right-center field for a 4-2 Henley advantage.

That insurance score would prove critical, as Banks put two runners on in the top of the seventh and pulled within 4-3 on Madison Seed’s chopper through the right side of the infield, but the game ended one batter later when Molly Hammond’s hot shot to shortstop resulted in a force out at third.

The loss was unfamiliar territory for Banks, which hadn’t lost a postseason game since 2011. The only player on this year’s roster who was around for that setback was Hammond, the team’s lone senior.

“The last couple years we were able to be on the lucky end of things, to have feelings of elation and not the opposite,” Compton said. “The reality is that most teams end their seasons with a loss, that’s the nature of the playoffs. We’ve been fortunate enough that we haven’t been on that side of it in the last few years.”

Banks catcher Madison Soper prepares to tag out Henley's McKenna Armantrout during last Tuesday's state playoff game.While the loss was unquestionably disappointing, Compton said she was pleased with the way the team reacted afterward. With family and friends packing the stands in Klamath Falls, most players had the option of riding home with their parents, but all but two opted to stay together for the five-hour bus ride back to Banks.

“I was really proud of the girls for that,” Compton said. “Most of our (road) games this season the kids have ridden home with their parents, but they wanted to be together. It was like they still wanted to have a little bit more of their season. I was personally really, really impressed with that.”

And, to her team’s credit, Compton said, the bus ride home wasn’t a completely somber occasion.

“On the bus it was kind of quiet for the first 15 or 20 minutes, then you heard some chatter and everybody started relaxing more,” she said. “We haven’t been through this the last couple years, so I think it took some time for it to sink in. I do believe this will be fuel for next season, though.”

Compton certainly has good reason to be excited for next year, with six juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen coming back. The only regular the Braves will lose is Hammond, the team’s starting first baseman. That will be a stark contrast to this season, when Banks broke in new players at six different positions.

“The girls should be proud of their season,” Compton said. “We only had three returning starters who were at the same position this year. With the amount of change we had, I thought the girls really came in with a desire to fill those spots.

“Obviously they did a pretty good job with another semifinal appearance. That’s something very impressive that they should be very proud of.”

The trip to the state semis was the Braves’ fourth in the last five seasons, with state championships in 2012 and 2013, plus a runner-up finish in 2010.

Compton traces the start of this current Banks softball dynasty back to the 2009 playoffs, when the Braves lost a hard-fought 3-2 decision to Marist, which eventually went on to win the Class 4A state title. Seeing that they could compete with the best team in the state encouraged the program to set its sights higher, and the players responded with a remarkable five-year run that has bled over into sustained playoff success for the girls basketball and volleyball programs as well, with seven top-six finishes in the last four years.

Ask Compton to trace the roots of this success back even further, and she pinpoints her first stint as head coach in 2004.

“It’s not just about building a current dynasty,” she said. “When I coached in ‘04 and ‘05, one of our shirts said: ‘Building a legacy.’ That was kind of our motto. But it’s not just building it for the present, it’s about building a future legacy.”

Ask Compton to go back even farther than that, and she lands on Jerry Mettee, the longtime Banks softball coach who later helped rebuild the program at Gaston.

“In his time here, Jerry took a team that was kind of middle-of-the-pack and took it to the top of the league,” Compton said. “Then he won a state title in ‘99 and had them back in the title game in 2000. That was sort of the start of it all.”

With so much historical success spurring them on, as well as the memory of this year’s semifinal loss to Henley, the Braves hope to be back in the state championship mix in 2015.

“I know these feelings are going to be with me for the next nine months, until our first softball practice next season,” Compton said of the loss. “I think the girls are going to hold onto that as well. They know that feeling and they don’t want to experience it again.”

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