Pitcher Dani Strum, left, has been one of the top pitchers at the 2A/1A level this season. (Observer file photo)
Union/Cove battles Yoncalla for 2A/1A Oregon title at OSU
CORVALLIS — There are two wooden signs on the outfield fence of the Union softball field.
One shows success — proclaiming the state softball title won in 2008 by the team — and another shows the Lady Cats almost won it all again a year later.
Coach Paul Phillips and the Lady Cats want to add another state championship sign to the fence today — but they will have to do it on the road at the Oregon State University softball complex. The Lady Cats have to get past Yoncalla today at 1 p.m.
“I think we are as ready as we are ever going to be,” Phillips said. “The girls sound like they are ready to get the job done. If we are hitting the ball, we can hit anybody. We just have to be hitting the ball.”
Union/Cove will be facing a team with a better ranking and playing closer to home.
Those may not be obstacles for this team.
Earlier this season, the Lady Cats were the top-ranked 2A/1A softball team in Oregon.
They had a problem keeping that position because they were winning against much weaker opponents once league play started. The team stumbled during the district play, losing twice on a road trip to Enterprise.
But Union spent most of the season ranked below teams it had beaten. The Lady Cats were 2-1 in three games against the OSAA’s top two teams. That improves to 4-1 if the two-game sweep of sixth-ranked Irrigon is included.
Heppner finished the regular season as the top-ranked team in the 2A/1A division, even after the Lady Cats had handed Heppner a loss early in the season.
Except for Enterprise/Joseph, the Union/Cove team has only lost once this year. But the No. 2 team on the OSAA poll, Weston-McEwen, was belted out of the District 5 playoffs by Irrigon and didn’t even make it into the state playoffs.
The TigerScots had split a doubleheader with the Lady Cats. Union won the opener by a 9-4 margin, but lost the second game, 7-5.
The Eagles lost twice to Dayton and twice to district rival Glendale. Yoncalla even allowed twice the number of runs that Glendale did during the season — 121 to 65. Glendale even had a better offense, scoring more runs than Yoncalla — 375 to 304 runs.
But that didn’t help the Pirates in Tuesday’s semifinal rematch of league rivals. Yoncalla edged the Pirates 6-5 to move into today’s title game. The Eagles will be trying to claim the school’s second state title.
According to Phillips, his team has to beat everyone if they are going to win the title — and Yoncalla is the last obstacle.
So far, the Lady Cats have been on a 25-3 scoring rampage through the playoffs. Union has beaten Western Mennonite and Perrydale, the two teams in the playoffs from Special District 3. The Lady Pioneers were dropped in the first round, 5-1. Then the Lady Cats followed with a 9-2 hammering of Irrigon, which included back-to-back home runs by Dani Sturm and Amber Fiorito. Sturm’s was a grand slam.
The big bats came out again in the semifinals when the Lady Cats blasted Perrydale out of the playoffs, 11-0.
The Lady Cats have an advantage, the coach said.
Union has allowed just 63 runs this year and has scored 269. Yoncalla has scored more runs, with three games where they scored more than 20 runs. But they also have allowed more runs — almost twice the Union total.
In two losses to Dayton, they were outscored by a 33-6 margin.
The Lady Cats have been consistent all season, Phillips said Thursday. “They have played well all season except for one day when they lost two to Enterprise/Joseph. “It was one of those days when what could go wrong, did go wrong. These girls have played good, consistent ball throughout the year,” he said.
In addition, the Lady Cats have logged wins over 4A and 3A schools this year. Vale, which lost to Union by a 10-2 margin, almost made it to the 3A semifinals. The Vikings lost to Rainier by one run in the quarterfinals and Rainier is in the 3A title game. A victory today would mean the Lady Cats end the season with a 10-game winning streak.
The Eagles will be going to the mound with their top pitcher, junior Brianne Joslyn (nine shutouts, 1.11 ERA).
The Lady Cats will be answering with senior Dani Sturm, who threw a one-hitter in the semifinals.
The Lady Cats will be going with the same group that brought them to the title game, Phillips said. “We’ll go with the same 10 kids we have used in the state playoffs.” That will include six seniors — Sturm, Amber Fiorito, Kelsey Walenta, Kaci Langford, Chandra Warren and Renee Mills — playing their final softball game in a great complex at OSU.
If the team plays the way they have shown him in the playoffs, Phillips said Yoncalla will be in trouble. “The bottom line is if we play our A game, it won’t be a game. We’re that good. It may sound like I am a little overconfident, but I really believe that.
“We are doing a good job right now with pitch selection — identifying what pitched we hit best and if we get that pitch, we are aggressive at the plate. As long as we have good pitch selection, we have had good results,” Phillips said.
“We’ll find out (today) how good they are, but I like our chances. We have a good defense, good pitching and good hitting. We know they are going to put the ball in play and we plan on doing the same thing,” Phillips said.
When the Lady Cats beat Irrigon a week ago, the team had to put up with rain and muddy conditions.
The Lady Cats also played and won under a rainbow that covered the town.
But it will be today’s game in Corvallis at the OSU softball complex that will show if Union/Cove really has found the gold at the end of the rainbow in Corvallis — and can add another championship sign to the chain link fence along the outfield.