La Grande head softball coach Woody Wright said getting back to the state championship game was not a goal for the Tigers — it was an expectation.
That expectation was met with authority Tuesday, as La Grande pounded out four home runs — three from Jayce Seavert — in a 9-2 victory over the Junction City Tigers at Sam Marcum Field in La Grande.
“We look at game day as celebration day for all the hard work they put in, (and) today is even more special because of all the hard work they’ve put in all year leading up to this game,” Wright said. “It’s a big celebration for them.”
Seavert, who had been relatively quiet at the plate during the first two playoff games — going 1-for-5 — wasted no time in leaving an indelible mark on the semifinal game with a two-run shot to center field just three batters in for a 2-0 La Grande lead.
“We wanted to go back, we wanted to do it for our seniors, and we came in with (the thought that) we’re going to do this as one team,” she said. “It’s not one person. All of us contributed today, and I feel that going back to the state championship (game) is the boost La Grande needs as a community and a school.”
Seavert added two more two-run blasts to left field — one in the fourth and one in the six — and scored on the fourth home run, which was a three-run home run by Allie Brock to center in the third.
“The kid was due,” Wright said of Seavert. “We have a team saying, ‘Show up, show off,’ and (Seavert) definitely did that today.”
The big day from the junior was also the latest display of a different player or group of players stepping up for La Grande, which has been a theme all season for the Tigers. Seavert attributed that to the team’s “incredible” bond, noting that the team picked her up during the first two rounds of the playoffs.
“They had my back,” she said of the first two games. “We just wanted to win (and) we wanted to pick each other up .”
Wright added that facet is what’s “beautiful” about the team.
“(If) somebody is having an off day and not hitting their norm, someone else steps up and gets it done. That’s what this team is about,” he said.
Seavert’s first home run also rattled Junction City — and especially starting pitcher Jenna Kister — and dealt a blow the visiting Tigers were ultimately never able to recover from. Wright said his scouting report on Junction City noted a key was to get into the pitcher’s head early .
“If you can get in the other team’s head from the get-go , it’s advantage you,” he said. “The girls did a good job. We wanted to establish our offensive game early , execute our game plan, and the girls went out and did that.”
La Grande also crafted a way to navigate the top of Junction City’s lineup without allowing too much damage. Junction City actually outhit La Grande, 9-8, but was held to mostly singles, and La Grande was able to limit the big innings.
“First three batters we knew could put the ball in play. (They’re) really aggressive at the plate. The (plan) was to keep them off balance and then attack (the rest of the lineup). First three batters from Junction City had some of the best swings we’ve seen all year,” Wright said.
The top four in the batting order for Junction City, in fact, went 7-for-14 and had both RBIs — an RBI double by Mariah Ohman in the third that briefly pulled Junction City within 2-1 and an RBI groundout by Lindsey Stripling in the seventh.
But the rest of the lineup went 2-for-16 against Brock. The junior struck out eight, walked one and hit a batter in seven innings, and did so while admitting she wasn’t at her best. The defense, though, picked her up with several sound plays both in the infield and the outfield.
“I had an off day today pitching. My spins were off and I wasn’t throwing as hard as I usually do, but I was relying on the defense behind me, and it was nice having them (there),” Brock said.
Shortstop Alaina Carson said infield coach Lin Casciato helped the team prep for what it would see against Junction City.
“We were really ready. Lin is our defensive coach for the infield, and he really trained us all week to be ready for those lefty hitters who are going to be powerful and also fast,” she said.
Carson, who along with Kara Gooderham had a hit and scored twice, was particularly excited postgame about the prospect of getting to now have graduation on the field in Eugene. She is one of three seniors on the squad, along with Kara Gooderham and Lexee Gomes, who will miss commencement in La Grande and instead have their graduation ceremony in Eugene.
“Some of my best friends are the girls who are graduating with me, (and) I’m happy to be with them and go to the U of O field,” she said.
The Tigers will play for a second consecutive title Saturday at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene against a familiar foe — the Henley Hornets. The teams met in last year’s state title game, a 6-1 win by La Grande, and also in the 2017 semifinals, a 1-0 win by the Hornets.
“I’m excited for a rematch with Henley,” Wright said. “(We) like that competition, and I’m expecting a good game.”