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West Linn stuns No. 6 South in playoff opener

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Southwest Conference champion Panthers fall prey to red-hot No. 27 Lions

South Medford softball coach Shane Ramsay was a little leery of his team’s opening-round matchup in the Class 6A state playoffs, and for good reason it turns out.

Despite carrying a No. 27 seed, West Linn continued its torrid final stretch to the season Monday afternoon at South Medford High, belting three solo home runs and keeping the host Panthers out of sync for a 6-0 upset victory.

The win West Linn’s seventh in its past eight games, which on its own may not mean too much except for the fact that the Lions now boast eight wins overall.

“Of the top 15 teams, I think we got the toughest matchup out of all of them,” said Ramsay. “Timing is everything.”

“They were the most dangerous team coming in and I knew it,” he added. “And they validated it right there. They did a great job, I’ve got to give them a ton of credit.”

Monday’s outcome marked only the second time all season that the sixth-seeded Panthers (22-5) have been shut out. The Southwest Conference co-champions generated only five hits against West Linn senior Addison Sobotta — never more than one in an inning — after averaging just over seven runs per game this season.

“She was pretty slow and we didn’t adjust as quickly as we needed to,” said South Medford third baseman Maddy Fullenwider, the team’s lone senior. “We have a young team so trying to get the confidence up at the plate, that’s still kind of hard to get to.”

Relying mainly on offspeed pitches and placement, Sobotta was able to throw off the rhythm of a Panther team that certainly seemed a little overanxious in trying to secure the program’s first playoff win since 2016.

“Honestly, we struggle with some of the slower stuff and we get on the front foot a little bit and don’t drive the ball,” said Ramsay, whose team had won 13 of its last 14 games entering the playoffs. “We need to have more patience with pitchers like that, which we need to work on, and we didn’t have it today.”

Conversely, West Linn did a good job of covering the plate up and down its lineup, with hits from seven players highlighted by solo home runs from Courtney Williams (second inning), Rebecca Gomez (third inning) and Ava Sin (sixth inning).

The difference here at the end of the spring as opposed to an 0-10 start that was interrupted by one win before seven more losses in a row by the Lions?

“Confidence,” said first-year West Linn coach Gina Garvey. “We weren’t hitting the ball in the beginning of the season and now we are. As soon as we started hitting, that’s what changed. Same group, same everything ... it’s just now we’ve got confidence.”

“I think they just needed to start believing in themselves,” she added of the 1-17 start. “We knew we could always hit the ball, just in the games they weren’t doing it.”

West Linn hit the ball hard all game, striking out only twice against South Medford sophomore Kacee Hudson and twice against freshman reliever Jordan Knutson.

“They’ve got some great kids on the team,” said Ramsay. “There’s a ton of good hitters in that group, there’s no doubt about it. If you put the ball on the plate, they punished you for it.”

Gomez finished 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, including a run-scoring double in the fifth that was followed by an RBI double from Gracie Gabel for her second hit for West Linn. Gomez and Gabel were the Lions Nos. 7 and 8 batters in the lineup but leadoff hitters Rylee Gaustad and Sin easily could’ve duplicated multi-hit games for West Linn were it not for a handful of nice defensive plays by the Panthers.

“They’ve got a ton of bats and they stick the ball,” added Ramsay. “How did they not win any games the first two-thirds of the season? It’s unbelievable.”

Chloe Dehlin reached on a dropped flyball with one out in the second and came around to score after singles by Gomez and No. 9 hitter Maddie Spicer for a 1-0 lead in the second inning for West Linn.

After home runs by Williams and Gomez in consecutive innings, it was 3-0 and suddenly South found itself in scramble mode.

“We had to put a bunch of hits together and had to have a big inning to try to make a comeback on it,” said Ramsay, “and we just couldn’t do it.”

South Medford’s first hit of the game came in the third inning on a patient approach by Shelby Hillyer, who deposited a single into right-center.

The Panthers’ first scoring chance came after a leadoff single to center field by June Woster in the fourth inning that saw her advance to second on a two-out error by the third baseman Gabel. Brianna Turrey then was induced into an inning-ending pop-up to the shortstop.

Knutson ripped a one-hop double to right-center to lead off the fifth inning with her team trailing 5-0 at that point but was doubled off for the third out following a pop-up and a liner to center field by Maleyah Thoele that turned into a double play when Knutson was caught between second and third base.

The Panthers used a one-out walk drawn by Kirsten Morgan and an ensuing single by Fullenwider that eluded a diving effort in center field by Jenna Wheeler to create an opportunity in the sixth. Once again, however, Sobotta was able to get out of the jam with a groundout by Ledendecker.

In South’s final at-bat, Kailey Wheelock blasted a leadoff double but the Panthers were unable to convert to see an outstanding season come to a close.

“We struggled quite a bit today,” said Fullenwider, “but we’ve been going up and up and up and achieving so much this year. Sometimes it’s just not enough.”

“We achieved a lot this year,” she added of earning the program’s first conference title in 19 years. “The drive is there, we just have to get it there a little bit more.”

Ramsay agreed that Monday’s game hopefully will serve as a learning experience for the young Panthers, who have only two junior starters and three overall with mostly sophomores and freshmen in the lineup.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids and they’re all coming back,” said the coach. “They’ve never experienced this. They’ve achieved so many things this year but they don’t understand how to continue to keep pushing through the playoffs. That’s what the next goal is next year with this group coming back.”

West Linn0111210—6101

South Medford0000000—053

Sobotta and Sin; Hudson, Knutson (4) and Hillyer. W — Sobotta. L — Hudson. 2B — WL: Gomez, Gabel; SM: Knutson, Wheelock. HR — WL: Williams, Gomez, Sin.

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's June Woster tags out West Linn's Jenna Wheeler at second base during the fifth inning.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Maddy Fullenwider gets a hit during the sixth inning against West Linn in Medford Monday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford shortstop Kirsten Morgan makes a play for an out during the second inning in Wednesday's 6A playoff opener.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Jordan Knutson drives the ball for a double during the fifth inning against West Linn in Medford Monday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Maddy Fullenwider dives to third base for an inning-ending forceout during the second inning.