Grant Union's Drew Williams, the 2A/1A pitcher of the year last season, has fanned 56 in five games. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)
Grant Union's Drew Williams, the 2A/1A pitcher of the year last season, has fanned 56 in five games. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)

Given all the mental energy that Grant Union's softball team spent in completing its three-year quest to win the 2A/1A title last year, the veteran-led Prospectors easily could have fallen into a trap to start this season.

“My biggest concern was just the letdown,” coach Zach Williams said. “I was afraid they were going to lose the fire a little bit.”

Through six games, Grant Union is showing no signs of a hangover. The Prospectors are off to a 5-1 start that includes wins over three teams ranked in the top six in the OSAAtoday 3A coaches poll in No. 1 Scio, No. 4 Burns and No. 6 Dayton.

“There's a calmness that's better in some ways,” Williams said. “They seem to show up and get after it on the field. That's what I wanted out of the beginning of the season. I didn't expect to be 5-1 at this point, but I'll take it.”

Grant Union brought back seven starters from last year's 26-3 team. Five of them were first-team all-state picks: junior shortstop Savannah Watterson (state co-player of the year), senior pitcher Drew Williams (state pitcher of the year), junior catcher Addy Northway, senior third baseman Halle Parsons and junior center fielder Reece Jacobs.

The Prospectors know how to win, finishing as runners-up in the 2A culminating week tournament in 2021 and the 2A/1A championships in 2022 before claiming their first title last year. Loaded with talent and experience, they anticipate another title run.

“I'd be lying if I didn't think there's an expectation that we're going to get back there,” Zach Williams said. “That's OK, as long as we work for it.”

Grant Union, No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 2A/1A coaches poll, got a boost March 21 with a 2-1 home win over reigning 3A champion Burns (6-2), a team that handed the Prospectors two of their three losses last year.

Drew Williams outdueled Burns senior ace Ayla Davies, striking out 17 without walking a batter, to earn the win. Parsons (12 home runs, 65 RBIs last season) broke a 1-1 tie by homering off Davies in the fourth inning.

Zach Williams said the excitement of beating Burns compared to winning the state title last year.

“We have a ton of respect for Burns, their players and their coaches, and beating them felt like a serious accomplishment,” he said. “Davies is always going to make it hard on you, and she didn't disappoint. I was really proud of the girls for staying intense and grinding it out for a full seven innings.”

The Prospectors got a big test last weekend with two road games against Scio (5-1). They won 4-2 on Friday in a match-up of ace pitchers – Williams vs. Scio junior Myleigh Cooper – before losing 13-12 on Saturday in a game with backups in the circle.

In the first game, senior Sivanna Hodge had a home run and two RBIs and Drew Williams fanned 13 in a complete-game victory. In the second game, Grant Union led 12-3 in the sixth inning but couldn't put away the Loggers, committing six errors in the final two innings.

“We just made poor decisions,” Williams said of his team, which lost despite a 16-7 edge in hits.

The Prospectors came back later Saturday to defeat Dayton 2-1 in eight innings at Scio. Williams pitched a three-hitter with five strikeouts and hit a home run in the second inning. Grant Union got the winning run in the bottom of the eighth on Watterson's no-out, RBI double.

“I was proud of them for bouncing back,” Zach Williams said. “It would've been easy to fall apart.”

Jacobs leads the team in batting at .579, followed by Watterson (.524, one home run) and Hodge (.400, three home runs). Williams has struck out 56 in 34 innings and has a 0.82 ERA.

The challenge for Grant Union going forward will be staying engaged through Special District 7 play. The Prospectors are overwhelming favorites in a league that includes No. 3 Weston-McEwen, last year's state runner-up.

Grant Union has scheduled games against 4A Pendleton and Burns to finish the regular season. The Prospectors also will play at 4A No. 7 Crook County on April 13.

“They've known for years that they're not going to sneak up on anybody,” Zach Williams said of his players. “Nobody's going to take them lightly, regardless of classification.”

Notes: Burns' Davies passed 1,000 career strikeouts in a 9-3 win over Elgin/Imbler on Friday. Davies fanned 21 as the Highlanders beat Union/Cove 9-0 on Friday, then later in the day she struck out the first nine batters she faced against Elgin/Imbler. She came back Saturday to strike out 11 in a 10-0, five-inning win over Warrenton. …

Central Catholic freshman Olivia Pompetti had a big three-game stretch last week, going 9 for 11 with five home runs, two doubles and 13 RBIs. … St. Helens went 4-0 in the Battle at the Beach in Newport last week to improve to 10-0. Senior Ava Eib pitched back-to-back shutouts, recording 17 strikeouts in one game. The Lions are No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 4A coaches poll. …

Sophomore second baseman Taylor Sirois was the catalyst as Tualatin scored 53 runs in three wins at the Nelson Spring Break Tournament last week. She went 7 for 13 with two doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs and scored seven runs. She also was perfect in the field, including a double play. …

Hillsboro sophomore Bella Godinez also stood out at the Nelson tournament. She went 9 for 13 with four doubles, one home run and 11 RBIs, scoring eight runs. She drove in seven runs against Grant and went 4 for 4 against Wells. … Senior Peyton Davis propelled Centennial to three wins at the Nelson tournament. She recorded three wins in the circle, striking out 25, and went 7 for 9 with three doubles, four stolen bases and eight runs.