Describing themselves as slow starters in each of the past two seasons, the Prairie softball team is gaining momentum at the right time.
As they attempt to defend the 3A Greater St. Helens League title, a 2-1 win over Heritage on Thursday was the third straight for the Falcons (8-4, 5-1 3A GSHL) and moved them into a first-place tie with Evergreen atop the league standings.
“Last year we started off slow, as we did this year. I think we’re pulling it together,” Prairie’s Rylee Wall said.
The Falcons got the result on their home field despite being held without a hit against Heritage starting pitcher Jaila Ellis, who struck out 10 batters, but capitalized on the little things.
A bases-loaded situation in the first inning brought up Prairie batter Jade Hayslip, who hit a pop fly down the first base line dropped by a Heritage infielder. That error, and an off-target throw to home plate, allowed Prairie baserunners Mackenzie Moore and Payton Miller to score.
From there, the Falcons turned to their sound defense and Wall, who struck out three batters while giving up four hits, one walk and no earned runs.
Heritage’s Hailey Dowell hit an RBI single to score Taylor Frost in the third inning, but Wall and the Falcons held the Timberwolves (6-8, 3-3) without a hit for the remainder of the game.
“I thought Rylee threw a really good game on the mound,” Prairie head coach Mariah Dawson said. “She’s been on fire lately, so I was really proud of her for that. I thought our team stayed up. We were loud the whole game.”
The Falcons split their first six games of the season, then sat at 5-4 following a loss to Class 4A Union on April 13.
What happened next, an 11-day hiatus without playing a game, turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the team.
Prairie had multiple games rained out the following week, and unlike a handful of Clark County teams that have access to synthetic turf fields for practice, the Falcons do not.
Instead, they spent each day of practice inside the school’s gymnasium working on fielding, pitching and hitting with plenty of live at-bats in the cages.
“I think the reps during practice and staying focused really helped,” Hayslip said.
Prairie returned to live competition on Monday with a 9-1 win over Portland’s Central Catholic, before adding two more 3A GSHL wins over Mountain View and Heritage in as many days.
“I think they adapted well,” Dawson said. “They’re not making excuses. We know we’re at a disadvantage, but we also work just as hard inside as we do outside.”
Both Heritage and Prairie reached the Class 3A state tournament last spring in Lacey, but an upstart Evergreen program has also jumped into the 3A GSHL mix.
One thing that could bode well down the stretch for Prairie is the team’s pitching depth, which Dawson estimates goes five deep led by juniors Wall and Hayslip, as well as Moore, a freshman.
“Last year we went into state with only one pitcher because I didn’t have enough depth,” Dawson said.
“Just to keep that program going, you have to have that depth. I think that’s key.”
Evergreen and Prairie are scheduled to play on May 8 in a rematch of a game the Plainsmen won 3-1 in March. The latest one could decide the 3A GSHL title.
PRAIRIE 2, HERITAGE 1
Heritage 001 000 0—1 4 4
Prairie 200 000 x—2 0 2
Pitching — Jaila Ellis 6 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 10 K, 4 BB; Highlights — Taylor Frost 2-3, R; Hailey Dowell 1-3; Kylie Stroup 1-2.
Pitching — Rylee Wall 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 K, 1 BB.