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Challengers fall shy in 3A semis to Dayton

Even though Cascade Christian was facing a Dayton softball program that has been in each of the last four Class 3A state championship games, winning in 2015 and 2018, the Challengers remained confident during Tuesday’s state semifinals.

And with good reason.

With sophomore pitcher Katelyn Willard doing her best to hold down the Pirates and Cascade Christian’s lineup able to keep Dayton sophomore pitcher Maddie Fluke on her toes, the Challengers showed they were not just happy to be playing in their first-ever semifinal contest.

But after Cascade Christian was able to gain a 4-2 lead in the top of the fifth inning on a clutch two-run double by sophomore Kara Palmer, the magical moment of reaching the state final fell flat as Dayton answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame and added another in the sixth to win 5-4 on its home field.

“I’m very proud of the girls and how much time and hard work they put in,” said Challengers head coach Keith Willard, whose third-seeded team finished 22-8. “They put in the time and were prepared for this game, it’s just one of those things, it didn’t happen. But they battled hard all the way to the end.”

“We were happy with being in the semifinals but we were not done,” he added. “We felt like we were going to go out there and take it to them, but it didn’t happen in the end.”

Second-seeded Dayton (19-5) will play top-ranked Clatskanie (26-0), a 10-4 winner over South Umpqua, in Friday’s state final.

Willard tossed a one-hitter with two earned runs after three walks, one hit batter and four strikeouts. Senior Audrey Quast joined Palmer in each posting two of the Challengers’ six hits against Fluke, who had no strikeouts and three walks.

Cascade Christian struck in the first inning when Quast singled and later scored after a pop-up by senior Mallory Meilicke was dropped behind second base.

A hit batter and walk set the tone for Dayton to answer in the first, with Fluke generating her team’s lone hit with a two-run triple.

The Challengers evened the score in the second after consecutive two-out walks by sophomores Ali Modrell and Neha Joseph set the stage for an RBI single by Quast.

Cascade Christian’s lead ballooned to 4-2 in the fifth after senior Mia Mayben reached on an error, Willard singled and, after a fielder’s choice by Meilicke, Palmer supplied her two-run double.

“She had lined out earlier in the game on a nice drive that if the ball’s 10 feet left or right we would’ve scored a run,” said Willard of Palmer. “The next one she got under it a little more and short-hopped the fence after it got over the center fielder’s head.”

Dayton capitalized on a hit batter and pair of errors to tack on two tying runs in the fifth, with the runs coming after a squeeze bunt was misplayed to allow one run to score and then another came in after a rundown.

In the sixth, Jodi deSmet’s sacrifice fly plated Cate-Lynn Jacks, who had walked and advanced on a fly ball that landed in the outfield between three Challengers on a play that could’ve provided the second out.

Cascade Christian1100200—463

Dayton200021x—513

Willard and Modrell; Fluke and Cicerone. W — Fluke. L — Willard (22-8). 2B — CC: Palmer. 3B — D: Fluke.

TUALATIN 10, GRANTS PASS 7: At Grants Pass, Tualatin’s Savannah Braun belted a grand slam and Sydney Wagner followed with a solo home run as the Timberwolves scored six runs in the seventh inning to stun top-seeded Grants Pass in the Class 6A semifinals.

Fourth-seeded Tualatin (25-5) hit four homers in the game to reach Saturday’s state final against No. 3 Sheldon, which won 2-0 over No. 2 Sunset.

Grace Gaither finished with a pair of solo home runs for Grants Pass (26-4), which led 6-4 heading to the seventh. Devin Ireland went 3-for-4 with one run and the Cavers got two RBIs apiece from Maddie Naylor and Toni Stevens.

Tualatin2010016—10131

Grants Pass0002401—7100

Ridings and Rosenbaum; Padgett and Stevens. W — Ridings. L — Padgett. 2B — T: Braun; GP: Naylor, Ireland. 3B — GP: Stevens. HR — T: Wagner, Braun, Johansen, Rosenbaum; GP: Gaither 2.

Cascade Christian's Katelyn Willard, shown throwing a pitch against Taft last Friday, tossed a one-hitter in Tuesday's 5-4 loss at Dayton. Photo by Denise Baratta