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Bats come alive to back up freshman pitching in huge Senior Day victory over Sandy

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JOHN BREWINGTON - St. Helens' Hallie Schwirse rounds second and heads for third with a bases-clearing, three-run triple in her team's 12-3 home win over Wilsonville on Tuesday. Any win over Wilsonville or Sandy is a good win.

Any inning when you score eight runs is a good inning.

Any day you win on Senior Day is a good day.

So it was a very good — and important — couple of days for the St. Helens softball team as it did all of the above — knocking off the visiting Wildcats and Pioneers on Tuesday and Wednesday, and locking up a Class 5A play-in home game.

The Lions will finish as the No. 4 team in the Northwest Oregon Conference regardless of what happens in their regular-season finale, set for 5 p.m. Friday against Milwaukie at Alder Creek Middle School.

"We're on a roll at the right time," said St. Helens coach Miranda Little, whose team has won four in a row.

The roll was enough to bowl over Wilsonville and Sandy with the right to host a postseason game on the line.

First, the Lions battled back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Wildcats 12-3, defeating them for the first time since May 2016.

On Wednesday, in the final league game at home for the St. Helens seniors, the Lions never trailed as they downed Sandy 8-3.

"Everybody played excellent. Everybody hit," Little said.

Those results — on the heels of wins against Hillsboro (9-5 on May 3) and Parkrose (5-4 on May 2) — means St. Helens will be back on its home field for the Oregon School Activities Association Play-In round on Friday, May 18. The Lions are slated to face Hermiston, the No. 3 team in the Columbia River Conference. The winner will advance to the 16-team state playoff bracket.

St. Helens has one nonleague tuneup game to play before that, facing Gladstone at home at 5 p.m. Monday.

Little and her players are excited that things are clicking down the stretch.

The Lions had lost their other two meetings with Wilsonville this season, both 5-1. And after the Wildcats scraped together three runs in the top of the fifth on Tuesday, a similar outcome seemed in the works. But the Lions weren't about to roll over.

Instead of kicking themselves over the one inning in which they gave up three runs with two outs, the Lions refocused and went on the attack.

In the bottom of the fifth, St. Helens scored four runs to take a 4-3 lead.

In the sixth, the Lions exploded for eight runs on five hits, two walks, a passed ball and an error.

"It just gets contagious," Little said.

Armed with a nine-run lead, freshman starter Alise Gump and the defense put the game away. A double play in the seventh inning helped shut down any Wilsonville hopes for a comeback.

"It's hard to beat a team three times, and I feel like it's even harder to lose to a team three times," Little said.

Gump scattered six hits — and didn't give up a walk.

"She pitched amazing," Little said. "She forced them to put the ball in play and we have solid defense."

"One of my best games," Gump said, noting that the Lions responded at the plate. "(We) showed them the team we really are. We just battled back and got in their pitcher's head."

Senior second baseman Hallie Schwirse delivered the first big swing for the Lions. After walks to Gump and juniors Madi Flores and Taylor Dow, Schwirse stepped to the plate with two outs.

"When I come up in that kind of situation, with a little pressure on me, I feel like it's a good time to take advantage of it," Schwirse said.

On a 1-0 pitch, she hit a hard liner to left field.

"I'm not going to lie — the (bat on ball) connection felt really nice," Schwirse said.

The drive was beyond the reach of the left fielder, the ball rolled to the fence and Schwirse got into high gear for a triple that brought all three base runners home to tie the score.

"As soon as the ball hit the ground, it was amazing," Schwirse said, "and I was going to run as hard as I could and go until my coach told me to stop."

The next batter, senior third baseman Brooke Mercier, doubled to right center, scoring Schwirse with the go-ahead run.

The following inning, the Lions picked up where they left off. Freshman catcher Jasmyne Pense had an RBI triple. Mercier singled in two runs. Senior left fielder Kortney Smith and sophomore first baseman Brynn Austin each drove in runs to all but put Wilsonville away.

"We get that one hit and the excitement starts to go through everybody," Schwirse said. "That's when we play our best."

Little said she wasn't surprised that her team was able to shrug off any disappointment in falling behind 3-0.

"This team is really good about coming back from one of those innings," she said. "These last couple of games, once these girls have gotten their bats started, the other teams can't stop them."

Wilsonville coach Steve Harms praised the Lions.

"Hats off to St. Helens. They're a very good team. They play very sound. They've got key players at key positions," he said. "They're young with their pitching, but we struggled with that a little in our approach at the plate.

"It's hard to beat a team three times. It's tough to keep that mental focus. But St. Helens is going to do well in the playoffs."

On Wednesday, it was more of the same for the Lions as they jumped on Sandy and won with their other freshman pitcher, Brea Paulson, going the distance.

"She pitched fantastic, too," Little said. "It was a tight strike zone, and she did really well to keep herself under control with that."

Sandy's runs came on a three-run home run in the sixth inning, but by then, St. Helens was in command.

Dow, the Lions' leadoff batter, went 4 and 4 with a walk.

"And we turned two double plays, which was big," Little said.

St. Helens improved to 8-8 in the NWOC, 9-13 overall and 15th in the Class 5A state rankings.

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