Once again it is Kennedy and North Douglas playing in the softball state playoffs. But this time, the state championship is on the line.
“One of us was always knocking the other one out of the state playoffs. And so this year, it’s nice that we’re actually going to meet in the state championship rather than knocking one or the other out early,” said North Douglas head coach Jesse Rice, adding, “Two years ago, we knocked them out and last year they knocked us out of the playoffs, so, it’s like I told the girls, it’s our turn to get this one.”
Playing at University of Oregon’s Jane Sanders Stadium on Friday at 5 p.m., the teams will meet for the sixth consecutive season in the playoffs. The Warriors lead the head-to-head 3-2 during this stretch. In that time, North Douglas won both first round matchups (2014 and 2015), Kennedy took both quarterfinal appearances (2016 and 2018) while the Warriors took the lone semifinal game (2017).
In that same span of years, both teams won their first – and only – softball state titles with North Douglas winning in 2017 and Kennedy winning last season.
“We’ve been at their place, they’ve been at ours, [head coach] Jesse [Rice] has been great and we’ve battled back and forth and whoever is the victor it’s like, OK, you guys got us this time or the other way around,” said Kennedy head coach Walt Simmons. “[Friday’s game] will be a lot of fun.”
Just as the team has done all season, Kennedy has been dominant in the playoffs. After 10-running Oakland – a team the Warriors split the season series with and scored two runs on all year – in the first round, the Trojans rolled to a 13-1 quarterfinal victory over Glide and a 7-1 semifinal win against Toledo.
“They’re a disciplined team. You can’t make a mistake against Kennedy. They are always really polished when they show up to play. So you just have to make things happen,” said Rice.
The eighth ranked, but seventh seeded, Trojans are a perfect 22-0 against 1A/2A opponents this season. The team’s only losses came against 3A teams – Scio, Dayton and Clatskaine – that are all ranked in the top seven in the classification. Clatskaine and Dayton are playing in the 3A state championship game on Friday in the game before the North Douglas-Kennedy matchup.
“They made us better. Very solid teams and that’s what I told [my team], we may not win this game but we’re going to get better from the experience,” Simmons said of playing the top teams. “That’s been something that I’ve harped on when we do the non-league games.”
For the Warriors, a league playoff loss pushed the fifth-ranked team to the ninth seed which meant a pair of road games. After a first-round bye, North Douglas defeated Bonanza 12-7 on the road and followed up that performance with a 5-0 victory over top-ranked Grant Union in the quarterfinals. On Tuesday against Lakeview, North Douglas punched its ticket to Eugene with a 2-0 win.
Now the sides meet again in a game that is quite different from last year’s contest. A season ago the Warriors were without junior pitcher Nicki Derrick who was out with an ACL injury. In her freshman state-winning season, Derrick helped push North Douglas past Kennedy with a 3-2 win.
“She’s an outstanding athlete. Just looking at the few stats that I can see that are out there, I mean, she’s a solid pitcher, she obviously can hit the ball,” said Simmons. “We obviously respect what she can do and hopefully we can come prepared and see if we can put the ball in play.”
While the venue of this year’s final may be new, both teams enter the game with state championship experience. The Warriors have six players that were on the team in 2017 while the Trojans, on their roster that features no seniors, bring back eight players from last year’s side. Kennedy’s state-winning pitcher Tressa Riedman graduated from last year’s team.
“We’ve matched up pitching wise, offense, defense and so I guess I look at Friday as another opportunity for either team to show what they’ve got,” said Simmons.