T he upcoming weekend is one that local softball fans — particularly of Eastern Oregon, La Grande or Union/Cove — will want to pay attention to.
All three of these teams have matchup against teams tied for first place in their respective leagues — teams that La Grande and Union/Cove are tied with and a team that EOU is currently chasing.
The Mountaineers travel to Salem to face Corban in a crucial four-game set today and Saturday. It’s an important game on several fronts. Corban is in need of a series win to try and stay in touch with Southern Oregon. The Warriors are currently tied with the Raiders for first place in the Cascade Conference, both with identical 16-5 records.
The contests, though, are just as important for Eastern Oregon, if not more so. The Mountaineers carry a 14-6 record in conference play, sitting in fourth place but just 1-1/2 games behind the CCC leaders. Those teams — Corban and Southern Oregon — are the teams Eastern faces to wrap up the season, with a two-game make-up day in between against Providence.
EOU has yet to lock up a spot in the six-team CCC tournament, which starts in two weeks, but can do so with one more CCC win, or a loss by either College of Idaho or British Columbia, so the likelihood of Eastern qualifying is pretty good.
Eastern still has an outside shot, as well, of earning the CCC title, though that would likely require taking anywhere from four to all six CCC games in the final two weeks of the season. And even then, the Mountaineers may need some help, given they already dropped a series to Oregon Tech, who sits in third place.
That’s why this first weekend series at Corban is so vital for EOU. The Mountaineers likely need to take two of the conference games to have a hope of a CCC crown.
Corban, though, is a team that has given EOU problems in recent years. The Mountaineers are just 3-14 against Corban the previous four seasons, and last year went just 1-3, with the only win coming in the series’ nonconference game.
The Warriors will be tough to beat at home, where they are 8-0 this season and are 52-13 the last four seasons.
This series will also show if EOU can truly contend with the top teams in the CCC. Yes, Eastern, at 14-6, is in that upper echelon in the conference. But the Mountaineers are 11-3 against teams under .500 in CCC play, and 3-3 against teams above .500 — Oregon Tech (1-2) and Carroll (2-1). Attempting to take two series against the top two teams will be a tall order.
The matchup will likely hinge on pitching, with both teams able to roll out two of the two four pitchers in the CCC in Corban’s Sabrina Boyd, and EOU’s Hailey Kline. Boyd leads the conference with a 1.70 ERA and has a 15-5 record. Kline is fourth with a 1.92 ERA and has a 12-3 mark. Both are guaranteed at least one start, and likely more. Overall, the Corban pitching staff has a 2.14 ERA. Eastern carries a team ERA of 3.55.
Offensively, Corban has an edge with a batting average of .318 and a scoring average of 5.97 runs per game. EOU, meanwhile, is batting .271 and averages 4.84 runs per game. But the Mountaineers have an advantage with the long ball, hitting 25 home runs on the season to Corban’s 19. Shevan DeFreitas is the Mountaineers’ leader with eight home runs, which is also third in the conference.
On the prep scene, La Grande and McLoughlin square off Saturday in La Grande for the first two of four games this season. First place in the Greater Oregon is on the line with both teams carrying identical 4-0 marks in GOL action. Mac-Hi enters ranked second in the OSAA Class 4A standings.
La Grande is sixth.
Until last year, Mac-Hi had been the standard bearer in the GOL, and had been untouchable. The Pioneers have won or shared the league title each year since 2012, and at one point had a 59-game winning streak in league contests.
La Grande ended that winning streak last year when it swept Mac-Hi at home late in the season, which boosted the Tigers to a tie for first in league. The Tigers ended up with the tiebreaker, and went on to reach the state semifinals for arguably the best season in program history.
There are major implications this weekend at both the league and state level. If the Tigers are able to manage a sweep, it would not only move them into first in the GOL and put pressure on Mac-Hi for the rematch in three weeks, but would likely move La Grande to No. 2 or 3 in the OSAA standings. That, of course, would in theory mean more home playoff games for a team that has state championship hopes.
Mac-Hi enters with a slight edge on the offensive end, averaging 9.3 runs per game to La Grande’s 8.8. But the Tigers have a decisive advantage in pitching, giving up just 3.2 runs per game — third in the state — to Mac-Hi’s 5.1. And so far in GOL action, La Grande has allowed just four runs in its four games. Mac-Hi has surrendered 20.
At the 2A/1A level, Union/Cove and Pilot Rock/Nixyaawii will renew one of the best rivalries in the state at their level when they meet for two contests Saturday in Union.
First place in Special District 6 is on the line as both teams enter with a 4-0 league mark. Both teams are also ranked in the top six in the state — The Lady Cats fourth, and the Rockets sixth — and have a combined record of 23-3.
The matchup has been about as close as one could ask for in recent history. The teams split six contests last year, 3-3. In the last four years, the teams are deadlocked with a record of 9-9 against each other. And odds are, those who attend this doubleheader will be watching a team that will reach the state final. The last five years, at least one of these two teams has reached the state championship game in Corvallis, including when they squared off for the title in 2016, a game won by the Rockets.
Pilot Rock/Nixyaawii does enter with the edge in pitching, allowing just 2.1 runs per game, which is second best in the state. Union/Cove is allowing 5.23. Offensively, the Lady Cats have a slight edge, scoring 12.3 runs per game to the Rockets’ 11.9.
The teams also enter on a pair of lengthy winning streaks. Union/Cove has won its last eight games, and is averaging 13.63 runs per game during that stretch. The Rockets have won 12 in a row, scoring 12.58 runs per game in that time, and have tossed shutouts in four of their last five games.