Prep softball: Mustang arms tussle with prolific Glendale offense

<p>Heppner pitcher Baily Bennett throws a pitch in a softball game against Weston-McEwen in Athena earlier this season.</p>

HEPPNER — The Glendale juggernaut is scoring like no other softball team in the state this season. Baily Bennett is pitching at a dream clip for Heppner. On Friday in Corvallis, these two immovable objects will collide.

The No. 1 overall Mustangs will face the No. 1 seed from the bottom half of the bracket in the Pirates at 4 p.m. at the Oregon State Softball Complex in a battle to decide which rock will crack first. The boulder with fewer chips will have one Class 2A/1A state title to show for it.

Bennett leads a Heppner (22-4) team that hasn’t needed to bust a fuse in the scoreboards this season because of her controlling work in the pitching circle. The junior’s ERA is under a half of a run per seven innings and she’s whiffed 176 batters with jolting speed and accuracy.

The Special District 5 champions will need every bit of pop in those pitches because it’s not often that the Glendale bats miss their mark. The Pirates (28-1) have seven batters who are hitting above — and three way, way above — .500 for the season. Junior identical twins Lizeth and Lizbeth Silva each bat just under the .600 mark. But Morgan Streeter is club president, hitting for a .605 average.

The three contact hitters highlight a lineup that has scored 116 more runs than any other 2A/1A school. The Pirates average 15.6 runs per game and have played only seven games this season that spanned the regulation seven innings. Two of those came in the playoffs, though.

Shutting down the Glendale offense entirely feels like a bit of a pipedream, Heppner coach Petra Payne said. That’s not in her realistic expectations.

“They’re going to put some runs on the board, that’s pretty much a given,” Payne said. “Our goal is just to minimize those runs and play solid defense. And we’ll have to make sure our bats are going.”

Heppner’s best bet would be to keep this game from becoming a call-and-answer scoring fest. Though the Mustangs have proven they can pile up runs — Heppner has outscored its opponents 29-3 in three postseason victories — swinging the sticks at Glendale’s pace isn’t sustainable.

Bennett leads the ‘Stangs at the plate as well, batting .370 for the season with nine home runs and 33 RBIs, but only one other Heppner girl gets hits in better than 30 percent of her at-bats. Third baseman Cassi Day’s year-long average hovers around .320.

But Payne is still confident that her girls can keep pace. The Mustangs have faced some superior pitching in SD5 this season, where four teams finished the regular season in the OSAA’s top six rankings.

“We’ve been able to prove that we have some girls in the middle of the lineup that can hit for power,”?Payne said. “I also have girls who can lay down a bunt when asked and hit for contact.”

The other two teams ranked sixth or better came out of Special District 2, the league that Glendale won. The Pirates are ranked second and in third was North Douglas, the only team to hang an “L” on the Pirates this year. That came in a 7-4 game back on April 6.

Heppner went 10-2 against SD5 teams this year and 7-2 against Weston-McEwen, Echo and Irrigon which filled out the top six rankings. Being able to fall back on regular season games in mid-April that had the feel and talent of a championship contest will mean no surprises for the Mustangs, Payne said.

“I think we can hang with (Glendale) I like to think that our league is tougher than what they’ve seen,” she said.

The Mustangs and Pirates are each seeking their first softball titles. Heppner has only ever played in the state tournament twice, in 2000 and 2001, but never made it past the second round until this season.

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Contact AJ Mazzolini at amazzolini@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0839

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