TIGARD – Tigard knew that carrying the No. 1 seed into the 6A softball playoffs was going to come with somewhat of a burden
But that hasn't seemed to matter to the Tigers, who have thrived under the high expectations in the playoffs.
“So much pressure,” junior catcher Karen Spadafora said. “We kind of take the pressure as a privilege, though. Having that pressure as the top seed is kind of an honor.”
The Tigers (28-3) continued their relatively drama-free playoff run Tuesday with a 6-3 semifinal win over No. 4 McNary (24-6). Spadafora and senior Kani Korok hit home runs, sophomore Hailey White delivered with a three-run double and senior Makenna Reid kept the Celtics in check on six hits, striking out 11.
Tigard, which has never won a state title, will play in the final for the second time in school history. The Tigers last made it in 1988, losing to Putnam in extra innings.
“We came in with high expectations, and we knew it was one of the goals, but we never made it the driven goal,” Korok said of making the final. “We just wanted to get better for ourselves. I'm proud of us. It's even better knowing we haven't done this in 30 years.”
Tigard's opponent Saturday at the University of Oregon will be Three Rivers League rival Oregon City, which stunned No. 2 Bend in the other semifinal. The Tigers split two games with the Pioneers this season, winning 1-0 at home and losing 5-1 on the road.
“It just shows how hard the Three Rivers League is,” said Reid, who shut out Oregon City in the first meeting but did not pitching in the second one. “I mean, Three Rivers vs. Three Rivers. They're going to battle it out, we're going to battle it out.”
Tigard figured to have its hands full with McNary on Tuesday. When the teams met in a nonleague game April 1 at Tigard, the Celtics won 2-0 in eight innings on a three-hitter by junior Lacey Vasas.
This time, though, Tigard found its offense. The Tigers had seven hits, including four two-out hits in a four-run third inning that gave them a 5-1 lead.
Tigard coach Pete Kostel said it was a simple matter of his hitters “having a plan in their mind in how they were going to approach their at-bat. We've taken big strides in that the last couple weeks. We have a way better approach.”
Korok got things started in the second inning with a towering home run down the left-field line for a 1-0 lead. She battled Vasas to a 3-2 count before hitting her fourth home run of the season.
“I knew coming in that I had to make an adjustment from last time,” Korok said of facing Vasas. “I think last time I struck out a few times and hit a pop-up. I knew coming in that she was going to pitch me outside. I just had to make an adjustment, step on that line and foul everything off until I got something.”
McNary pulled even at 1-1 in the third inning when sophomore Ali Martinez doubled and scored on a single by sophomore Aspynn Westby, but the Tigers blew open the game in the bottom half of the inning.
With two outs, sophomore Ella Dardis and junior Nozomi Akin singled and Spadafora blooped an RBI single to right-center. After an intentional walk to Korok, White laced a three-run double to left-center on a 3-2 pitch for a 5-1 lead.
“I saw multiple pitches. A lot of them were just right down the middle,” White said. “I was just, 'I've got to bring my hands through and pop it.'”
White, the team's No. 5 hitter, went 2 for 3.
“She's come a long way,” Kostel said. “You want to talk about someone who's put a plan together and focused on her own at-bats a lot more the last few games, she's on top of that list.”
Spadafora made it 6-1 in the fifth inning by ripping her 11th home run of the season. Reid closed it out from there, allowing only a two-run homer by Martinez in the top of the seventh.
Reid hiked her season strikeout total to 417, No. 2 in state history behind Hood River Valley's Crystal Draper (449). Despite the win, the Florida State-bound Reid said it was “not her day” in the circle.
“I got a little overheated,” said Reid, who did not allow a run in the first three playoff wins. “I wasn't feeling that great, but I pushed through it. Even after that home run, I was like, 'just three more outs, c'mon, just pitch.'”
The loss marked the end of the line for McNary. The Celtics excelled this season under first-year head coach Kelly Parsell (formerly Burdick), who played on South Salem's 2014 title team before a college career at Washington.
Parsell liked how her team battled Tuesday.
“If you're not going to win, lose that way,” she said. “And that's a way to be able to walk away proud. We gave that game our all. One tough inning hurts.”
Martinez's home run was her fourth in the playoffs. She hit a grand slam in the first round against Grants Pass and belted two homers in the second round against North Medford.
“She is dialed in,” Parsell said. “I wish we could keep on going just so she could keep showing what she's got.”