On a rain-soaked Saturday on Philomath High's softball field, the defending Class 4A state champion La Grande squad posted an 11-0 victory behind strong pitching and timely hitting.
Despite the lopsided loss, Warriors coach Erik Remington believes his team was better prepared to face the Tigers' ace pitcher, junior Allie Brock, than they were in last year's state semifinals when Philomath fell on the road by a 5-0 count.
"We had a better approach this time than we did in the semis," Remington said. "There wasn't the sticker shock because we've seen her, so we did approach it a lot better. We still definitely got outgunned, I mean that kid's the best in the state. But I thought we competed a lot better and to have the ability to see it right now in March is huge."
It's not out of the realm of possibility that the two teams could see each other again this postseason.
"Leaving the game, the coach from La Grande, we were talking, and we said we'll see each other in May or June, so that's the plan," Remington said.
A steady rain fell for most of the game and was heavy enough to cause two delays. The game was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. but started a bit late as the two teams waited out strong showers that were moving through. After two innings had been played, game officials called for another delay that lasted roughly 45 minutes.
"We were one more downpour away from probably having to call it," Remington said.
When asked if the game resembled last year's playoff meeting in any way, La Grande coach Woody Wright replied, "The biggest difference was the elements."
La Grande (3-0) had a little bit of a later start to its season than some other teams with its season opener only this past Tuesday. The Tigers beat Pendleton 7-1 and downed Banks 10-0 on Friday before the trip to Philomath.
"Today was a great outing and Philomath's a great host," Wright said. "It was definitely a pleasure."
La Grande scored five runs in the second inning to take control early on. Another three runs were added in the third after the game resumed from the rain delay and another three tacked on in the fourth.
"You can look at it and people are going to look at the score and go 11-0, but realistically, they didn't throttle us," Remington said. "We had a few mistakes defensively, one defensive mistake that really cost us five runs because we would've been out of the inning, 0-0."
Leadoff batter Alaina Carson went 2 for 3 with four RBIs for La Grande. Teammates Jacie Howton and Grace Neer also had two hits apiece.
"They're a decent-hitting team but I didn't see their firepower today either," Remington said. "They had the timely hits and as I said, you can't make those little mistakes against that kid in the circle."
La Grande will be considered to be a strong possibility to repeat as state champions. The Tigers have Brock back at pitcher and only lost two players off last year's squad. Still, Wright knows it's a long season.
"Well, it's difficult for a repeat, but the girls are working hard and they're focused and they're hungry," he said.
Philomath was limited to two hits in the ballgame. Senior Kylee Galvan knocked a single up the middle in the second inning. Senior Hannah Williams singled in the third.
Brock finished with 12 strikeouts.
Philomath's bats have been quiet for most of this week. The team relied on pitching and defense for victories of 2-1 over Sweet Home and 2-0 over Cascade.
"It's kind of a bummer that we had to go two games in a row with very limited offense and then have this game where we go against the best pitcher in the state and have a little bit of limited offense again," Remington said. "I told these girls, I know what we're capable of with our bats and when that finally comes around, they're going to be a very difficult team to play with."
Sophomore Kamden Combs threw four innings and allowed 10 hits and five walks with two strikeouts against the Tigers. Junior Kylie Barnes threw the fifth and allowed no hits and one walk.
Despite the rough outing Saturday, Combs had a good week in the circle with those close conference victories.
"It was kudos to Kamden for those two wins because, 2-1 and 2-0, those are tight, tight ballgames and one mistake away (from losing) but our defense was very solid," Remington said.
Philomath (4-3 overall, 3-0 Oregon West) also beat Stayton to begin last week.
"We're off to a good start in conference winning our first three, which is huge to get a jump on that," Remington said about the conference. "Now we'll go to spring break and get another four games under our belt and then come back to start the road to late May."
The Warriors will be competing in a tournament hosted by Redmond Monday and Tuesday and the tough schedule will continue. The first day's games will be against Scappoose (2 p.m.) and North Bend (4:30 p.m.) and the second day will feature matchups against Lincoln (9 a.m.) and Ridgeview (11:30 a.m.).
The team will then get some spring break time off before resuming conference play April 1 at Sisters.
La Grande 11, Philomath 0 (5)
Saturday at Philomath
LA GRANDE (3-0) 053 30 — 11 10 0
PHILOMATH (4-3) 000 00 — 0 2 0
DP—None. LOB—La Grande 6, Philomath 2.