ONTARIO — Like the Thanksgiving table at the Navarrete household, Lexi Navarrete sat 14 Molalla batters on Saturday as the Ontario softball team clinched a spot in the OSAA 4A state tournament with a 6-1 win over the visiting Indians.
The Tigers didn’t waste any time getting on the board Saturday, with a big single by AJ Juarez scoring two runners in the bottom of the first inning.
The Tigers added another in the bottom of the third when Mollie Maxwell scored on an error.
The bottom of the fifth inning gave the Tigers a little more breathing room, as Juarez singled to score another. Juarez would score during the next at-bat on an error. Then a booming triple by Amy Hernandez scored another to make it a 6-0 game. The Indians scored one run in the top of the sixth inning, but it was too late as the Tigers cruised to the win.
In seven innings, Navarrete allowed four hits and no walks while striking out 14 batters.
Juarez was the Tigers’ top offensive option, with three hits, two RBIs and one run scored. Nabarrete had two hits and scored a run.
Ontario coach Jeff Young said the Tigers still need to work more on making contact with the ball, as they struggled with their offensive consistency against Molalla.
The Tigers are currently on a four-game winning streak, which has been a boost since they hit a major roadblock midway through the season.
At the end of March, the Tigers were 8-2 and looked like a state contender. Following spring break and multiple rained out games, the Tigers were humbled by La Grande 20-1 and 22-0 after two weeks off.
But with the state tournament on the horizon, Navarrete said the Tigers are feeling a lot more like themselves and the time they’ve spent together has helped the team become more whole.
“I definitely think we have a lot of mojo but I feel like our chemistry has gotten a lot better,” Navarrete said. “Definitely with the freshmen, I felt like in the beginning of the season, we kind of had a separation with the freshmen that play together, like in 14U and they kind of separated themselves from the older girls. But now I feel like it’s a lot more together. We’re all equal and we all like each other.”
Young said the Tigers had a big wake call midway through the season and they looked better in their second go-through against their Greater Oregon League rivals.
“We felt a lot better the second time we played them,” Young said. “And we should have beaten Mac-Hi.”
With four years of being the Tigers’ ace under her belt, Navarrete is one of the most veteran softball players in the valley. But his season, the Tigers have a massive underclassmen group that includes seven freshmen (four of which were in the lineup on Saturday)
After missing out on the state tournament last spring, Navarrete said she is overjoyed to be returning to the playoffs for the third time in her varsity career. She said the Tigers wouldn’t have been able to do it without the play of the freshman class.
“Honestly, it means a lot to me that these freshmen have stepped up and played their positions. Like Sam never really played shortstop. She was more of a third baseman, and we kind of put her in a lot of different spots. I’m just thankful that these guys wanted to cooperate with me. Sometimes I can be a little bit bossy and I apologize to them. But I know they can be really good.”
Saturday also marks what is likely the last time the Tigers will play at the Ore-Ida/Heinz Regional Sports Complex, which they share with Treasure Valley Community College’s softball team. The Tigers had to play on the Chukars’ field Saturday, since the Ontario field was too wet to use after Friday’s rain.
The OSAA’s state tournament brackets should be released early in the week.