La Grande head softball coach Kirk Travis simply had to tip his cap to Pendleton pitcher Lauren Richards.
That’s because on Wednesday, Richards was nearly perfect.
The Pendleton right-hander was one out away from throwing a perfect game against La Grande and finished with a one-hit shutout in the Buckaroos’ 7-0 win over the Tigers Wednesday at Pioneer Park.
“You got me. If I knew we’d have hit the ball more,” Travis quipped when asked why Richards was so effective. “She’s a great pitcher. My hat’s off to her.”
La Grande had managed to put the ball in play — and even score — when the teams met in mid-March, a 12-2 win by Pendleton.
The Tigers had almost no such luck Wednesday afternoon. Richards was dominant from the get-go, striking out four of the first six batters. The senior finished with eight strikeouts on the afternoon.
“I definitely had a lot of movement this game, and my speed was higher than it usually is,” Richards said. “I just kept that up and tried to keep it consistent throughout the game.”
La Grande starting pitcher Allie Brock matched Richards for the most part in the early going, but got in trouble in the third. Carissa Cooley tripled — the first hit of the game — Richards walked with one out, and with two down, Alexi Brehaut hit a three-run home run for a 3-0 lead.
The Buckaroos added two runs in the fifth on an RBI single by Kalan McGlothan, who later came around to score on an error.
McGlothan added a two-run home run in the seventh for the final margin.
By then, the only question to be answered was if Richards would reach perfection. Through six she appeared untouchable, only getting in real trouble when she fell behind in the count 3-1 to Jacie Howton in the fourth inning. Richards forced a popup to end the frame.
In the seventh, she forced a popup by Alaina Carson and struck out Kara Gooderham looking. Howton, though, ended any thoughts of a perfecto with a first-pitch double into centerfield.
The sophomore wasn’t aware at the time Richards was an out away from a perfect game.
“I really had no idea,” she said. “I was just thinking first pitch is normally there, and I just swung. I was so frustrated that I wasn’t hitting before that. Anything looked good at that point.”
Richards knew what she was close to, and admitted she started thinking of it as early as the fifth inning, and definitely when Howton stepped up.
“I was thinking about it the last batter. It probably didn’t help me,” she said. “I probably should have kept it out of my mind.”
After seeing the perfect game and no-hitter broken up on Howton’s double, Richards followed by walking Jayce Seavert before forcing Mady Bell to ground out to end the gem.
“We didn’t prepare for her as well as we should have,” Howton said. “I think we weren’t seeing the ball as well as we normally do.”
Despite the loss, Travis said he was pleased with the way the Tigers battled.
“They’re ranked high in the 5A (classification),” he said. “They’re a really good softball team. We had a lot better performance than we had over there (in Pendleton).”
McGlothan and Brehaut both finished with three RBIs to lead the Pendleton offense, which had seven hits.
Brock tossed six innings for La Grande, giving up five runs — four earned — on four hits with four walks and six strikeouts.
The Tigers (6-3 overall) host Homedale, Idaho, in a doubleheader Saturday.