TIGARD -- The regular season ended in disappointment for Tigard’s softball team, which squandered a golden opportunity for a Three Rivers League title with back-to-back losses in which it held leads in the last inning.
But the Tigers are looking to turn the page in the postseason, and got off to a promising start Monday with a 9-1 win over visiting South Salem in the first round of the 6A playoffs.
“It was a good experience for us, a good motivation, because it reminded us that anybody on any given day can beat anyone,” senior catcher Emily Paulson said of the losses to Canby and Lake Oswego. “I think it got us prepared.
“Even though we just lost those games, we’re still confident in our ability to play and make plays. We knew we were going to bounce back in the playoffs.”
No. 9 seed Tigard (20-8) advances to a second-round game Wednesday at No. 8 McMinnville. The Tigers won at McMinnville 4-2 in a nonleague game April 10.
Tigard had 10 hits and drew six walks in ousting No. 24 seed South Salem (15-11). Junior Lexi Klum hit a solo homer and two-run double and junior Abby Soderquist punched a two-run single in an eight-run third inning. Paulson had one of Tigard’s seven hits in the third and added an RBI single in the sixth.
“Putting the ball in play and moving runners,” Tigard coach Pete Kostel said. “We capitalized on some mistakes. Hitting becomes contagious.”
The third-inning rally chased South Salem’s starter, sophomore Alivia Benavidez, who was replaced by sophomore Alley Isaac.
“We were so close to getting out of it at 3-1,” Saxons coach Scott McCormick said. “Then geez, they unloaded. Hit the ball well.”
Down 1-0, Klum got the Tigers even by leading off the third inning with a home run to straightaway center field. It was Klum’s 13th blast of the season and 23rd of her career, despite having her freshman year cut short with a torn labrum.
“I was hoping I’d come out here and make some noise,” Klum said of the season. “I was out my freshman year, so coming back these last two years has been pretty sweet. I’ve been really hitting the cages a lot.”
South Salem entered averaging a 6A-high 11.2 runs per game but couldn’t get untracked. Tigard sophomore right-hander Sophia vanderSommen held the Saxons to one run and four hits in five innings before yielding to freshman lefty Makenna Reid, who threw two hitless innings, fanning five.
VanderSommen and Reid have split time for much of the season.
“Makenna has been battling an injury, so Sophia got the start tonight and did a great job,” Kostel said. “It’s a good one-two punch, either way.”
Klum said the pitchers have been “doing phenomenal. Sophia kind of specializes in movement, and Makenna’s a speed demon, so together they’re unstoppable. When we rotate them, no one ends up catching us.”
The Tigers, who made the quarterfinals last year, believe they have a chance to make a deep playoff run. They were 2-0 this season against reigning 6A champion Tualatin, ending the Timberwolves’ 45-game winning streak.
“That just gave us a huge boost of confidence in that we know we can beat anyone in the state,” Paulson said. “It gives us so much motivation to know that we beat a team that had not lost in 45 games.”
Monday’s loss ended a promising season for South Salem, which has one senior on its roster and starts four freshman, including three that made the Mountain Valley Conference first team. The Saxons improved from 8-18 last season.
“Compared to the last two seasons, we made some big strides forward,” McCormick said. “We got growing pains.”
The Saxons have one of the state’s young stars in freshman shortstop Delaney Keith. She entered the game hitting .639 with eight home runs and 49 RBIs, but went 0 for 3.
“I wish I could clone her,” McCormick said. “She’s scary in the cage.”