Cascade Gold nearly captures state title
Keith Willard is trying hard not to play the “What if” game in his head.
But after coming so close to winning a championship at the USA Softball 18U State Tournament this past weekend in Salem, it’s pretty understandable if it does happen.
Willard’s Cascade Christian Gold squad nearly captured a state title in the 18A bracket after an unbeaten run to the championship game the first two days of the tournament. Cascade couldn’t hold onto a late lead in the opening game, losing 9-8 to Bandits Fastpitch out of Clackamas before falling 11-4 in the winner-take-all title decider.
“Before the tournament, finishing second with the best players in the state, I would have told you that’s great,” said Willard, whose Cascade Gold team is comprised of players from high schools all throughout the Rogue Valley. “But we were a hit or two away from winning the whole thing, so that made it a little hard there at the end.”
Cascade led 3-0 in Game 2 Sunday before Bandits Fastpitch scored 10 unanswered to take a commanding lead and win the game in five innings, as games at the tournament either ended via mercy rule or time limit.
But it’s the first game of the day that Cascade Gold truly wish they could have back.
Cascade was ahead 7-2 after just two innings, using a five-run bottom of the second to take early control. But, as Willard knew, Bandits Fastpitch — a team with a number of players who play collegiately — wasn’t going to go down quietly, responding with seven unanswered runs, including a five-run fifth inning, to take a 9-7 lead.
Cascade got one run back in the bottom of the sixth to cut the deficit in half, but that was as close as it got.
“Just one of those things where we couldn’t put them away,” Willard said. “We obviously scored some runs, but missed some opportunities with the bases loaded, with girls on second and third and just a hit away here and there, a couple balls that we hit were caught at the fence. That’s what happens, and fortunately we had two games before that where we did come from behind. I thought we were going to do it in the seventh inning when we had a runner on, but it just didn’t happen. The girls played great together, there was a lot of battle and never giving up and I’m super proud of them.”
Cascade’s Katelyn Willard went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a pair of runs scored, while Sophie Woodburn finished 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs. Sara Martin also had a double as part of a two-hit game in the opener and recorded a pair of RBIs.
Kirsten Morgan, who had an RBI in Game 1, was Cascade’s big run producer in Game 2, finishing 2-for-3 with a double, a home run, three RBIs and a run scored. Katelyn Willard was also 2-for-3 with a run scored while also driving in a run in Game 2.
Cascade’s summer season isn’t quite over yet, though, as Willard and Co. will take part in the West Coast World Series in Sacramento starting Friday, July 23, and running through Sunday, July 25.
“The girls did great,” Keith Willard said. “We had two come-from-behind wins and in (the) 18A (bracket), we’re playing at the top level, so if you would have asked me ahead of time if I would be you happy if we took second, I would have said ‘Oh yeah!’ But, then of course, when you’re there competing for the championship, you’re not happy that you didn’t win.”
Reach Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.