Softball: Kennedy clinches third straight league title
What was supposed to be a tightly-contested game between two of the state's best 2A softball teams with a league title on the line turned out to be a relatively pedestrian win for the No. 2 Kennedy Trojans.
Kennedy (20-4, 17-1 Special District 2) beat the No. 3 Central Linn Cobras (21-2, 16-2 SD2) 7-1 on May 15 to clinch their third consective conference title and followed with a 10-0 win over Western Mennonite on Thursday for their 10th straight win.
The victories bumped the Trojans above the Cobras for the No. 2 spot in the OSAA rankings, giving Kennedy home field advantage throughout the first three rounds of the state playoffs, which begin Wednesday.
It also puts both programs on a collision course for a state semifinal game in Mount Angel on May 29, should both teams win their first two playoff matches.
It would be the fourth game of the season between the two Special District 2 foes, who went into last week's game fighting for bragging rights within the conference.
The Trojans had been the undisputed favorites to win the league coming into this season by going unbeaten in back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017.
But Central Linn took the conference by the reins when they scored a 13-2 win over the Kennedy on April 3 as part of a 15-game win streak to open the season.
"I think we played them not so well early on in the season," Kennedy Head Coach Walt Simmons said. "We were just off on every little thing."
The Trojans struck back in an April 30 rematch, beating the Cobras 3-2 on a walkoff RBI by senior Hannah Arritola to tie the series and hand Central Linn its first loss of the season.
That set the table for last week's rubber match, where Central Linn took an early 1-0 lead off three consecutive one-out singles before Kennedy starting pitcher Tressa Riedman struck out the next two batters to end the bleeding.
From there, Riedman took control of the game, finishing with 12 strikeouts and four hits in seven innings as the Trojans quickly took control back in the bottom of the inning.
"She actually gets a little better as the game goes along," head coach Walt Simmons said. "Being a big game, she had a few nerves starting out, and I think once she got in the circle, she started to settle down, and that's what she's been doing the last three years."
Riedman opened the bottom of the first with a single to right field. Courtesy runner Rylie Newton used a sacrifice bunt layed down by Hannah Arritola to advance to third base, and tied it up on the next at-bat on a ground out from Molly Jaeger.
Kennedy added two more in the bottom of the third and blew the game open in the fourth, scoring four runs — two of which came when Central Linn's Breanna Buckridge and Ally Crowell collided while attempting to field a fly ball from Arritola.
Both teams traded scoreless frames for the remainder of the game, giving Kennedy the much-needed victory.
"It was close there for a while," Simmons said. "I think we just kept doing what we do — putting the ball in play and letting things happen."
Arritola finished the game going 4-for-4 with three RBIs to lead the team on offense.
Kennedy's 10-0 win over Western Mennonite at the end of the week hit many of the same beats. Riedman was once again lights out on the mound, striking out 15 and giving up two hits in six innings of work.
Arritola, Jaeger, Riedman and Ellie Cantu each led the team with three hits in the victory, while Cantu and Emily Cuff did the lion's share of the offensive work, driving in three runs each.
The Trojans will now turn their attention to the first round of the state playoffs on Wednesday, where they host the Riddle Irish (16-6, 8-2 Special District 4).
A victory would advance the Trojans to the state quarterfinals on Friday, which would be at home against either No. 7 Knappa (13-2, 14-8 Special District 1) or No. 10 North Douglas (14-4, 20-7 Special District 3).