The La Grande Tigers softball team made history Saturday.
Allie Brock took a shutout into the seventh inning and had two RBIs, Jayce Seavert and Alaina Carson both drove in runs, and the Tigers clinched the first state championship in program history — and first ever OSAA title for a girls sports program at LHS — by defeating the defending Class 4A champion Henley Hornets, 6-1, at the OSU Softball Complex in Corvallis.
“I’m just really excited,” Brock said after her fourth dominant performance of the playoffs. “It’s a very surreal moment. It doesn’t feel like we just won state. I just don’t think we’ve processed it yet.”
The victory came in the Tigers’ first-ever trip to the state championship, and against the team that eliminated La Grande from the playoffs in the semifinals a season ago.
La Grande never trailed, but found itself in a precarious spot just three batters into the game. Henley loaded the bases with nobody out against Brock in the first inning, putting its high-powered offense, which entered averaging more than 10 runs per game, in prime position.
That’s when Brock bore down to earn a miniature victory for the Tigers early in the contest. The sophomore forced Tanner Higgins — Henley’s top power hitter with 13 home runs — to pop out, then struck out Carli Moore and induced Jessica Northcutt to ground out to end the inning.
“You can’t change what happened in the past. You can’t go back in time and fix it. So you just have to focus on what’s ahead of you and focus on the moment,” Brock said of her mindset in the middle of that jam.
The escape not only kept the Hornets off the board but swung the momentum into La Grande’s favor.
“We rallied back and got all those outs. Nobody scored. I think that put it in gear for us,” senior third baseman Hailey Givens, who had two hits, said.
The Tigers’ breakthrough on offense came an inning later. Kara Gooderham reached on a bunt single and moved to third base on a long single by Jaiden Hafer to open the second. A wild pitch by Henley starter Lilly Poe allowed Gooderham to score, and an error by Poe on the same play resulted in Hafer coming around to score to make it 2-0.
An out later, Givens and Lexee Gomes hit back-to-back singles, and Carson dropped a safety squeeze bunt to score Givens and give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
It was a change of pace on offense for the Tigers from the previous rounds of the playoffs. La Grande had relied solely on the home-run ball to score all eight of their runs in their quarterfinal and semifinal wins.
“The offense was what I’m used to,” head coach Kirk Travis said. “They came out to play. They hit the ball really well, and our base running today was spectacular.”
The Tigers also bounced back against Poe, the pitcher who blanked La Grande in the 1-0 semifinal loss in 2017. The Tigers had little trouble against the junior in the rematch Saturday, finishing with nine hits as they scored more runs off Henley than any 4A school had this season. Seavert, who had two of the hits, attributed that to the team facing tough competition going into the title contest.
“Last year we didn’t see as much good pitching as we did this year,” Seavert said. “We saw Gladstone, who had an amazing pitcher. We saw Philomath. I think we were already used to seeing that.”
It wasn’t the last time the Tigers roughed up Poe, either.
In the bottom of the fifth — after Brock pitched out of a second bases-loaded jam unscathed — La Grande added to its lead. Jacie Howton walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Seavert for a 4-0 lead. Two outs later, Hafer reached on an infield single and Brock helped herself with a two-run single that extended the Tigers’ advantage to 6-0.
Henley finally broke through in the seventh, scoring an unearned run on a two-out RBI single by Maddie Perez, but Higgins’ fly ball to left field was caught in front of the wall by Gomes to end the game and set off the celebration.
Brock finished the afternoon by allowing just two hits, one unearned run, four walks and 11 strikeouts. During the playoffs, she posted an ERA of 0.00 and had 45 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Perhaps more impressively, she held down the top half of a stout Henley offense. Entering play Saturday, the top four batters in the Hornets’ lineup — Paige Nemec, Kaila Mick, Perez and Higgins — were batting a combined .489 with 32 home runs and 161 RBIs. Against Brock, they were a combined 2-for-10.
“I’ve said this for a long time — Allie is dominating as a pitcher (with) the work she puts in in the offseason. It showed a lot today,” Travis said.
Seavert said Brock was also impacted by some talk she overheard from the Henley dugout.
“I could hear them talking, ‘We’re going to hit her.’ Once Allie hears that everything snaps and comes. Her riseball was really effective. She was really good,” Seavert said.
The Tigers’ defense was also sharp, playing error-free ball until the seventh inning and making some tough plays looks routine.
“Our defense has worked so hard,” said Hafer, who had two hits and one of those big plays with a pick on a low throw to first base in the fourth inning. “We give it 110 percent every day in practice, and we practiced really hard to get here.”
With the win, the Tigers finished with a 23-4 record.
“I’m excited for the girls,” Travis said. “They’ve worked hard all year long. One goal at a time. First was the (Greater Oregon) League championship. I kept telling them we had a four-game season (in the playoffs). There were four steps on the ladder, (and) we needed to climb the ladder one step at a time. They showed up today to play. They became state champions.”