Fittingly, a senior had the game-winning hit for the Eastern Oregon softball team in its season finale on senior day.
But it was a freshman who had come through with a clutch tying hit earlier in the inning to help set the stage for the walk-off heroics.
Haley Ebner’s seventh-inning home run tied the score, and Hannah Rothwell hit a walk-off RBI single three batters later to lift the Mountaineers to a 7-6 win over Oregon Tech in its final game of the weekend and the season Saturday at Peggy Anderson Field.
“We’ve continued to work hard, so I think that was the determining factor on us being able to compete this weekend,” Rothwell said.
Oregon Tech had claimed the series’ three Cascade Collegiate Conference games, winning 8-5 and 9-2 Friday, and 6-1 in Saturday’s opener, and was up 6-5 entering the bottom of the seventh in the final game.
But Ebner hit the tying home run, a redemptive solo shot to left field. The freshman was 0-3 on the day and was 1-for-13 in the series prior to the at-bat.
But she said she had the seniors in mind when she connected for the home run, which came after OIT had scored a run in the top of the seventh.
“I just really focused on swinging for them and having that last at-bat for them, doing everything I could to help tie up the game,” Ebner said.
Head coach Erin Dickhausen said Ebner has poise and isn’t one to let a game’s earlier events get to her.
“She had been struggling today, but she’s not going to let any of her previous at-bats dictate the way she approaches the plate,” Dickhausen said. “As a freshman, she’s solid. She’s going to be good for this program the next few years.”
Sarah Bonner and Jordan Henley followed with singles of their own before Rothwell singled to score pinch-runner Julie Hernandez and send herself and EOU’s seven other seniors off on a high note.
“I really wanted to clutch up for my team. Had runners on, no outs, and it was the perfect opportunity to show my hard work,” Rothwell said.
The victory served as a positive end to a tough series and a rocky season, as the Mountaineers finished with just 13 victories and will miss the CCC tournament for the first time since 2015.
“This is a good OIT team, so (it) definitely (was) not an easy win. We had to grind. We had to push everything we had to scrape together those runs. Definitely proud of the seniors,” Dickhausen said. “It’s definitely not the picture-perfect season. Unfortunately we’re done now. This is a team I think deserved to go further, but there were some games that we weren’t able to do what we just did.”
But there are pluses Dickhausen said the team can carry over into the 2020 season.
“We have a good group of young kids who are eager and ready to jump on the field. I think they’re going to come back and be hungry in the fall,” she said.
The Mountaineers spotted OIT an early 4-0 lead before beginning to chip away, with their seniors leading the charge. Senior Brandi Bowling hit an RBI single and Ebner had an RBI groundout to cut the lead in half in the first inning, and Rayne Spencer, another senior, cut the gap to 4-3 with a second-inning RBI double.
The lead reached 5-3 before EOU pulled even on RBI singles by seniors Madison Barr and Bowling in the fourth.
All of EOU’s senior starters in the batting order in the finale, in fact, swung the bat well. Each had a hit, with Bowling, Shevan DeFreitas, Bonner and Rothwell collecting two each, and together, those four, Rayne Spencer and Barr went 10-for-18 with five runs and five RBIs.
Another freshman, though, got the win in the circle. Brianna Zweygardt tossed seven innings, allowing five earned runs on seven hits. She did walk eight, but stuck out four.
OIT 6, EOU 1
Eastern had nine hits — three off the bat of Rayne Spencer, but were able to scratch out only one run in a loss in the CCC finale earlier Saturday.
EOU’s lone run came when it caught a break in the sixth and trailing 5-0. Bonner hit a short popup in the infield, but OIT catcher Jacey Conklin and first baseman Andrea Sotelo collided going for the ball, allowing it to drop and Bowling to score.
That was all Eastern managed against Sarah Abramson, who struck out 11 batters for OIT.
Lauren Spencer, in her finale game for EOU, tossed a complete game, allowing five earned runs on six hits with seven walks.
OIT 8, EOU 5
The Owls hit three home runs and responded to each rally by EOU to win the opener Friday.
Cierra Barkis and Sotelo hit home runs in the second and third innings, respectively, for a 3-1 lead. The lead reached 5-2 before Rayne Spencer hit a two-run shot in the fourth to make it a one-run game. But Tech responded with three more runs, highlighted by a Logan Nunes two-run homer, to make it an 8-4 margin. An error in the seventh allowed Bowling to score. Bowling, Rayne Spencer and DeFreitas each had two hits.
OIT 9, EOU 2
The Mountaineers hung close for most of what was a must-win game to keep its playoff hopes alive, but the Owls broke the game open with six runs in the seventh for the win.
Nunes homered twice for OIT, including a three-run shot to cap the seventh and make it a 9-1 lead. Rothwell hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh.
The Owls scored three times in the fifth for the early lead before Rayne Spencer’s RBI double got Eastern on the board. The Mountaineers, though, had just five hits, two from Jordan Henley.
Lauren Spencer tossed 4-1/3 innings, giving up one earned run on four hits with a walk and a strikeout.
EOU finished with an overall record of 13-32 and was 7-20 in the CCC.