On the journey to a conference crown, a team must maintain a high level of play, avoid letdowns against inferior opponents and play their best against the tougher ones.
A diving catch at just the right moment never hurts either.
In the Oregon West this season, Philomath and Sweet Home made their way to the top of the standings, although teams like Cascade, Stayton and Newport provided legitimate challenges. Last week when the final outs of the regular season were recorded, Philomath sat atop the league for the second straight spring and now turns its attention to the playoffs.
What about that diving catch?
It happened early last week on the road trip to Newport. The Cubs trailed Philomath by one run and got a runner over to third with two outs. Kalea Blodgett, who last season was robbed of a home run when Kaili Saathoff made a memorable catch at the fence, had an opportunity for payback.
“I was expecting it to go pretty deep, she’s a good hitter,” Saathoff, a sophomore center fielder, said. “So I was playing fairly deep and then she just hit this little blooper. And I just remember running and being like ‘that’s going to drop ... I can’t let that drop.’”
Saathoff sprinted into shallow center in an attempt to get to the ball.
“As I got closer, I remember thinking that I can dive and get that,” she said. “I never made a diving catch before ever. Every single time I’ve tried it, I just flopped.”
But not this time. Blodgett was robbed again by Philomath’s center fielder.
“Instinct took over as I got closer and I just focused on the ball and how I was diving,” Saathoff said.
The Warriors held on for the 2-1 victory. It was sorely needed to keep any chances of an Oregon West title alive because Sweet Home came into the week with a one-game lead. The Warriors had stumbled the previous Wednesday in an 8-2 setback to Cascade. But then the Huskies also lost to the Cougars early this past week.
As it turned out, Philomath finished a game ahead of Sweet Home. The Warriors beat winless Woodburn Thursday, 10-0, while the Huskies lost at Newport, 6-5.
“We’re really glad that Cascade came through and beat Sweet Home,” Saathoff said with a smile. “That one game against Cascade, for us, that was definitely a fluke. We were not hitting the ball at all. They’ve improved a bit but we should’ve come out and beaten them.”
Remington theorizes that the team struggled with prom week distractions.
“We handed it to them pretty easily the last time we played in a muddy game and man, we just could not hit and they were just dialed,” Remington said about Cascade. “They got hot when they needed to and help us out by beating Sweet Home.”
As for the Newport game, the Warriors took the season series with two out of three wins. But all of those games were close and in fact, each was decided by a single run. The Cubs had just a 9-9 record in league and 12-11 overall so in a way, it’s a bit surprising that they played the league champs so close.
“It was just a classic Newport-Philomath battle play after play,” Remington said. “Newport and Philomath always play good softball games.”
Oh and by the way, Philomath’s Tasha Varnado also had a diving catch late in the Newport game.
In the 10-0 win Thursday over Woodburn, junior Kylie Barnes threw a one-hitter and allowed just one walk and no runs with two strikeouts. She also came through at the plate by driving in a pair of runs.
Senior Sydney Bradley finished 2 for 3 with the team’s other six hits scattered among six different players.
“Our goal is basically to score each inning,” Saathoff said after the win. “We haven’t been doing that but we’re working towards that ... because if we can beat the other team each inning, we’re going to win the game.”
The 4A state playoffs don’t begin until May 22 with a round of play-in games to be staged. Remington said the Warriors will try to schedule an opponent this week to stay sharp.
“We’re gong to look for some sort of tune-up game this week — any level of 3A, 5A, 6A; try to stay out of 4A — probably on Wednesday or Thursday,” he said.
Even if an extra game isn’t arranged, the Warriors should know what to expect after reaching last season’s semifinals.
“There were only four or five that left from last year and we’ve still got the returners this year,” Remington said. “They understand the road in front of them.”
Still, the head coach believes the Warriors (18-8 overall, 15-3 Oregon West) have yet to play their best game.
“I guess the way I look at it is I’m excited because we haven’t played a really good softball game all year,” he said. “We’ve had flashes and we finally started to put together one of our better games at Newport, which obviously came at the right time.”
And then he added, “I’m waiting for our best softball.”
Philomath 10, Woodburn 0 (5)
Thursday at Philomath
WOODBURN (0-23, 0-18) 000 00 — 0 1 2
PHILOMATH (18-8, 15-3) 073 0x — 10 8 1
DP—Woodburn 1. LOB—Woodburn 1, Philomath 6.
Philomath 16, Woodburn 5 (5)
Thursday at Philomath
Team notes: The JV team evened its record at 9-9-1 on the season. ... Jordyn Foster went 2 for 3, including a double, with two RBIs. ... Emily King went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. ... Kyla Berger finished 2 for 4. ... Aubrie Hansen hit a double. ... The JV Warriors are scheduled to play Saturday at home against Scappoose and Gladstone.