With the sun shining and a big turnout of Lions softball fans, for first time in many decades, the playoffs returned to Cottage Grove High School. After defeating Junction City in both games of a doubleheader on Monday, May 16, the Lions clinched the 16 seed in the OSAA rankings and hosted 17th-ranked Hidden Valley in the play-in round.
Cottage Grove started freshman pitcher Emily Pacheco on the mound. Pacheco, who was a little shaky to start, allowing two to get on base, eventually got on steady ground. Hidden Valley’s Alex Hill was thrown out at third after trying to go home, Pacheco then struck out Jianna Bents and Bailey Sandquist to end the top of the first.
“It was a great game, she (Pacheco) wasn’t shook up by the bigness of it. She pitched a great game and it was probably the best defensive game we’ve had all year. First game of the playoffs and they came out natural. They came out having fun and were loose,” Lions Coach Adam Dimock said.
The Lions offense appeared to be getting off to a quick start in the bottom of the first. Freshman Addison Hitt got to first on a bobbled ball in the infield. Junior Josie Hitt then came up to bat and drove Addison home and got a double. The Lions were quickly up 1-0 and looked like they could be off to the races.
Then the pitcher’s duel began.
To end the first inning, Hidden Valley pitcher Briella Jacob got Pacheco out on a pop up and struck out Lions senior Peyton Baird. The next several innings continued into a low scoring affair. Hidden Valley threatened in the fourth inning, but senior Izabell Senters made two big plays at third base that prevented Hidden Valley from getting home.
The sixth inning is where the game changed. Hidden Valley’s Alex Hill got a base hit, then in a disastrous defensive play by the Lions, Aubree Schmidt brought Hill home with a deep shot to left field.
In the same play, Schmidt was also able to come home after a couple errors by the Lions, making the score 2-1 in favor of Hidden Valley heading to the bottom of the sixth. It was one of the few defensive lapses of the afternoon for the Lions, but a costly one.
The Lions didn’t stop fighting. Pacheco and Baird were both walked. Sophomore Olivia Joseph bunted and was thrown out at first, but runners advanced into scoring position and the Lions looked like they were poised to tie the game or take the lead with one out. But it was not meant to be, the Lions left the baserunners stranded.
“I went out there after that play (in the top of the sixth) and said, hey let’s shake it off. I said let’s hit them with the sticks. It’s not that we weren’t hitting, it just wasn’t falling where we needed it,” Dimock added.
In the seventh, Pacheco and the Lions’ defense continued a great afternoon, quickly getting the three outs that Cottage Grove needed to have a shot. But it was not meant to be as the Lions were not able to get anyone on base and Cottage Grove fell 2-1 to Hidden Valley as their season officially came to an end.
It was the lowest combined scoring game of the season for the Lions and their opponents, along with the 3-0 loss to Pleasant Hill early in the year.
“We did have the one hiccup that ended up costing us the game, but gosh they played great. They’ve got nothing but to be proud of. I’m super proud of them,” Dimock said.
In a year that has been historical for Cottage Grove, the Lions’ season ends with a 13-12 (7-8) record. Coach Dimock, who concludes his first season as Lions coach, has a bright outlook for the future of the program that could return as many as eight players.
“We’re losing three girls, but we have some of our key players coming back. Addison Hitt, Sienna Wagner, Emily Pacheco, Josie at catcher … we’ve got a lot of key people that are still going to be around. I have nothing but high hopes for next year. I think we build off of this year and see where we go,” Dimock said.