PENDLETON - The Pendleton Buckaroos and Corvallis Spartans may be located on opposite sides of Oregon, separated by nearly 300 miles of highway, but when the two teams meet for their second round OSAA Class 5A Softball State Championships game in Corvallis, it will be like looking in the mirror.
The teams have posted nearly identical records with the Bucks sitting at 19-7 and the Spartans at 18-6, and both took second place in their respective leagues. Each squad racked up a 10-3 home mark, while the Spartans went 8-2 on the road and the Bucks were 8-3 outside of Pendleton.
"For our team it doesn't really matter much to us about the history of the team," senior first baseman Sara Roach said.
The similarities don't end at records, though, as both teams have shown they have the firepower needed to win big and the defense and pitching it takes to pull out the close games.
They both have scored 10 or more runs in a game six times this season, but the Bucks do have a slight edge in the close wins, taking nine victories by three runs or less to the Spartans five.
The two also outscored their opponents this season by more than 40 percent, the Bucks scoring 158 runs while allowing 76 (48 percent) and the Spartans topping their schedule 145-60 (41 percent).
"They've given up very few runs in all of their games, which means they have high-quality pitching," Bucks coach Tim Cary said of the Spartans. "That's what I've looked at more than anything."
Pendleton does hold a slight advantage in Ratings Percentage Index, which is a formula that takes into account theirs and their opponents' win percentages. The Bucks RPI is .565, good for seventh in the state at Class 5A, and the Spartans is .560, putting them at ninth.
Simply put, Tuesday's matchup in Corvallis should be a heck of a ball game.
"We'll have to play our best game to beat Corvallis," Cary said.
The Bucks will have the onus of dealing with the Spartans' Karmen Holladay on both sides of the ball. Already signed on to play for Oregon State University next season, she possesses the talent to shut down a team from the circle while burying them with her power hitting.
"She must be the real deal," Cary said of Holladay. "We kind of want to stay away from her all we can."
But then, the Bucks have had plenty of experience facing that type of player in Hermiston's Candice Castro and The Dalles-Wahtonka's Jessica Wood.
Pendleton will start one of their two precocious freshmen on the mound, Alex Hillmick or Kelli Demianew.
"I haven't released that information yet," Cary said of who will start. "They're so even. I don't have any complaints with either one of them. I'm just waiting to see who's hot and who's maybe not."
Normally, a freshman starting in their first state playoff game would be a nerve-racking experience, but no matter who gets the nod Tuesday, they'll bring plenty of big-game experience with them.
That's because Demianew and Hillmick were a part of a 2004 Little League Softball World Series team (along with fellow freshman and spot starter Leini Alger) that finished in the top 10.
"I think it does prepare you mentally because you're like, 'Wow, now I know what this is going to feel like later on,' and you can analyze it," Demianew said.
Another thing these young hurlers will have going for them is a talented veteran defense.
"Our whole defense is working really hard behind our pitchers to make sure that any ball that does get hit will be fielded cleanly," Roach said.
Cary said he's most concerned about whether the Bucks' bats will show up in playoffs, after he said he thought they had cooled off their past three or four games.
"All of us really have been putting the extra work in to get our bats going," Roach said. "I think just having the postseason atmosphere will get our bats going again, just that adrenaline and confidence that comes from playing in the postseason."
"Hitting comes and goes and maybe we've had our little cooling off stage and now it's time to get hot again," Cary said. "That's what we'll hope for. I really like what I've seen in practice and scrimmages lately."
The Bucks will make the trip out to Corvallis Monday evening to try to get the girls feeling a little more comfortable and to take some stress off going into the game Tuesday.
The game starts at 4 p.m.