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High school softball state playoff preview: Improved Lebanon squad within reach of state title

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Lebanon High was an average softball team in 2021, going 7-9 overall and 4-5 in Mid-Willamette Conference play during a truncated season.

A year later, chemistry and consistent offense and pitching have propelled the Warriors to a share of the conference title and a shot at a state championship.

Third-seeded Lebanon opens the postseason at 4 p.m. Wednesday with a home game against 14th-seeded Ashland in an OSAA 5A round-of-16 game. The winner plays 11 seed Thurston or 6 seed Ridgeview in a Friday quarterfinal.

The Warriors jumped out to a 6-1 start this season and they had hope.

“I think the biggest part right now is we’re coming together as a team. The chemistry is amazing,” junior pitcher Alivia Holden said at the time. “We’re all friends on and off the field. We trust each other. We know everyone has each other’s back. Everything that needs to get done is getting done.”

Players grew into their roles and were put in position to succeed as coach Mardy Benedict and his staff learned their strengths.

Early on, Benedict said the biggest improvement he saw came defensively.

“Last year, same group with no seniors, we made a lot of those confidence errors, one snowballed into another,” he said. “This year, I think the confidence is better, they believe in themselves and they’re not worrying about that mistake.”

Lebanon (22-5, 14-2) responded to a 4-3 loss at West Albany on May 13 to win its last three regular-season games, including a 3-1 home victory against Dallas/Falls City to grab a share of the conference title with the Dragons.

The Warriors were ranked third in the final 5A coaches poll released this week.

Next up is Ashland, the fourth-place team from the Midwestern League. The Grizzlies (16-9, 10-6) won six straight games before losing two straight to league champion Crater to finish the regular season.

Here’s a look at the rest of the area teams involved in softball playoff games Wednesday and potential matchups in Friday’s state quarterfinals.

OSAA seeds in parentheses

5A

(10) West Albany at (7) Eagle Point

Time: 5 p.m.

Records: West Albany 15-10, 11-5 Mid-Willamette; Eagle Point 18-8, 12-4 Midwestern

Winner gets: (15) Corvallis-(2) Wilsonville winner

The Bulldogs are 6-1 in their last seven, including a win against Lebanon, heading into the playoffs. West survived a rough 4-6 start to finish the regular season 11-4.

Eagle Point, which tied Thurston for second in the Midwestern, split two game each with league champ Crater and Thurston. The Eagles have also won 6 of 7.

(15) Corvallis at (2) Wilsonville

Time: 5 p.m.

Records: Corvallis 15-11, 9-7 Mid-Willamette; Wilsonville 24-3, 17-0 Northwest Oregon

Winner gets: (10) West Albany-(7) Eagle Point winner

The Spartans, who gave Dallas one of its only two league losses a week ago, will try to take down another of the state’s heavy hitters. Corvallis also has a win against West Albany.

Wilsonville, the Northwest Oregon champion, has one loss to 5A competition, to top-seeded Pendleton back in April. The Wildcats are 17-0 since with five combined runs allowed.

4A

(9) Sweet Home at (8) Henley

Location: Klamath Falls

Time: 5 p.m.

Records: Sweet Home 19-6, 13-5 Oregon West; Henley 14-12, 14-1 Skyline

Winner gets: (16) Baker/Powder Valley-(1) Marist Catholic winner

Sweet Home makes the 200-plus-mile drive south trying to extend a four-game winning streak that included Cascade’s only Oregon West loss and a 12-2 state play-in win against Gladstone. The Huskies have just one defeat (6-5 to Stayton) since April 27.

Henley, the Skyline champion, went 0-11 in nonconference games. But the Hornets won 14 of 15 before losing two straight heading into Wednesday’s contest.

3A

(12) Warrenton at (5) Harrisburg/Mohawk

Time: 4:30 p.m.

Records: Warrenton 13-10, 8-4 Special District 1; Harrisburg/Mohawk 20-6, 9-3 Mountain Valley

Winner gets: (13) Santiam Christian-(4) Scio winner

The Eagles claimed the top seed in a competitive Mountain Valley after a three-game sweep of Pleasant Hill. They are 9-2 in their last 11 games with two one-run losses.

Warrenton, second in Special District 1, has lost 3 of 4, including a two-game split with league champion Taft. Before that, the Warriors won 8 of 10.

(13) Santiam Christian at (4) Scio

Time: 4:30 p.m.

Records: Santiam Christian 13-8, 8-4 Mountain Valley; Scio 17-6, 7-5 PacWest

Winner gets: (13) Warrenton-(5) Harrisburg/Mohawk winner

The mid-valley neighbors meet to potentially face another team not far down the road. Both have already played Harrisburg/Mohawk this year.

Santiam Christian has lost three of four after winning nine of 10. Scio has lost two of its last four but only three games total since April 27.

2A/1A

(9) Jefferson at (8) Toledo

Time: 4:30 p.m.

Records: Jefferson 17-4, 15-2 Special District 2; Toledo 18-6, 14-0 Special District 4

Winner gets: (16) Bandon-(1) Grant Union/Prairie City winner

Jefferson has won 11 straight, with its last defeat coming April 21 against second-ranked Kennedy. The Lions have allowed 27 runs in that stretch and haven’t lost to a team outside of the Trojans in more than two months.

Toledo is on a 14-game winning streak with 10 shutouts and a forfeit in that run. The Boomers have one 2A/1A loss this season, to third-seeded Union/Cove.

Jesse Sowa is a sports reporter at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached at 541-812-6065.

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