With what seemed like the entire community of Drain watching in the stands, the North Douglas softball team put on a show during Friday’s state championship.
“I tell ya, I would say most of Drain showed up for the game today. We had so many fans here, it was fantastic,” said North Douglas head coach Jesse Rice. “And I’m sure they’re going to follow us all the way home and give us no rest for about a week. I mean, the community is fired up and they should be because it was a really, really good performance by these girls.”
The ninth-seeded Warriors (28-3) gave their fans plenty to cheer about at Jane Sanders Stadium as the team, in front of a crowd of 1,107 people, claimed its second softball state title in the last three seasons with a 15-6 win over defending champions and seventh seed Kennedy (22-5).
As North Douglas had done all season, the team paired a dominant pitching performance from junior Nicki Derrick — who recorded 16 strikeouts — with a barrage of hits on the way to a win. Kennedy, a team the Warriors have now faced in six straight playoffs, had given up just four runs throughout the post season.
“When we got here, we just played with no fear. There were no nerves involved and that showed,” said Derrick, one of six North Douglas players who was on the 2017 championship team. “This just means everything. I’m very proud of myself but I’m even more proud — this was a whole different team. Some people really had to step up to make this happen. That means the most to me.”
All season the junior pitcher — who struck out a staggering 57 percent of the batters she faced, recorded six no hitters and two perfect games — was dominant against everyone. But especially against the best teams North Douglas faced. In the regular season, it was Derrick recording a no-hitter against Oakland and a pair of shutouts against Central Linn, two of the best teams in the league. In the playoffs, it was yet another no-hitter against Lakeview in the state semifinals, just one game after shutting out the number one team Grant Union.
And on Friday, it was more of the same dominance as she tallied strikeout after strikeout.
“Oh my goodness. I honestly didn’t even realize that [I struck out 16 batters]. I thought maybe like nine or something,” said Derrick. “You just have to keep pitching and not worry about stats or anything. Not worry about the score and that’s kind of what it is.”
“Wow. What a game,” echoed her head coach Rice. “Just the fact that she is so confident. I’ve said many a times, for a 16-year-old girl, for her to have the confidence and the belief in herself that she has is just great. I mean, she comes out there and just knows that she can throw well and that she has a great defense behind her.”
Derrick was in control early with five strikeouts against the first eight batters. The Trojans applied some pressure with the bases loaded and one out in the third inning, but Derrick answered with back-to-back strikeouts.
“I just had to stay locked in mentally,” she said. “If my confidence waivers, it spreads to the whole team and I knew I was in the middle of a very big stage so I just had to do my job.”
Kennedy finished with six hits as a team and began to find an offensive rhythm as the game progressed. The Trojans recorded two runs in the fourth, which were initially contested when Kennedy’s Rylie Newton collided with North Douglas shortstop Halli Vaughn, before adding two more runs in both the fifth and sixth innings.
But the Warriors weren’t worried.
“Defensively, we’ve played solid all year but offense has sputtered every once in awhile. But to come out against a team like Kennedy and hit the way we did, was great,” said Rice. “The girls really, really believed in themselves today.”
After one inning of play, and the game still knotted at zero, the Warriors had complete faith that they were going to finish the day as champions. In the top of the first inning, the Warriors made solid contact with two balls hit to the outfield. While it was a quick three outs, the team knew that hits were going to come.
“At first we kind of didn’t know about the pitcher and so we didn’t know what was going to happen,” said lead-off hitter Sofia Alcantar.“ As soon as she started throwing, we were perfectly fine.”
After Alcantar’s pop fly to center, she had a message for the team.
“She hits it hard, goes right to a person, runs into the dugout and she goes, ‘Guys, we can hit her. We can do this,’” said Derrick. “Even though she didn’t get on, she hit the ball hard and spread the confidence among us.”
That early contact and confidence turned into a constant stream of runs as the Warriors scored in each of the following innings.
Derrick’s double started the second inning as she was pushed around the bases by hits from Hope Ward and Natalie Draeger to give the team an early lead that they would never relinquish.
While the Warriors were confident that they were going to win, they let everybody else know in the third inning as the team’s offense exploded for six runs. It started with Alcantar getting walked, which was followed by a double from Riley Black. Five Warriors recorded hits in the inning to go with three batters being walked and two errors from Kennedy.
“We said, ‘Hey, look at that, we can hit this girl all day long and we can hit her hard.’ So they had that confidence and they went out and made some great hits,” said Rice. “All the way through, one to nine. Everybody was hitting the ball well.”
North Douglas finished with 14 hits in the game as a team. Draeger finished with four hits, three RBIs and scored two runs; Black had three hits and scored two runs; Derrick had two hits and scored three runs while Alcantar had two hits and scored two runs. Cydni Dill scored three runs and had three RBIs. Vaughn scored two runs.
“No one wanted to give up. No one got down on anyone,” said Draeger, who was named player of the game. “I think the team was just really powerful today. Just had a really good hitting day.”
The scoring didn’t stop there as there as North Douglas scored a pair of runs in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
“We were never satisfied,” said Derrick. “You could just feel the energy in the dugout, we wanted more. Our goal was to 10-run them in whatever inning that we could. Not just because we wanted to go home but because we just wanted to compete. We wanted to be the best but we wanted to be the greatest. That was just the energy across the whole dugout and that spread to everybody. Everybody was up and we wanted it.”