Over the past several years, the road to a Pacific League softball title has run through the juggernaut of a program that is the Pe Ell-Willapa Valley Titans.
After Tuesday’s twin-bill sweep of Ocosta, that road remains the same.
In a matchup that featured some of the league’s top pitchers and a plethora of likely all-league selections, it was PWV that emerged in the driver’s seat for another league title, winning 8-3 and 16-1 on Tuesday at Harriet Dorland Park in Westport.
In the opener, reigning league MVP Olivia Matlock and Ocosta right-hander Jessie Gilbert showed why they are two of the Pac League’s premiere players.
Locked in a pitcher’s duel through the first two-and-a-half innings, Matlock got to Gilbert with a two-run, opposite field homer to put PWV (10-2 overall, 10-0 2B Pacific) up 4-0 in the top of the third.
In the bottom of the fourth, Gilbert returned the favor, sending a Matlock pitch over the center field fence to trim the Titans lead to 4-2.
Matlock and Gilbert shut the opposing offenses out in the fifth and it wasn’t until the sixth inning that PWV began to pull away, when Wildcats miscues began to take a toll.
Titans catcher Payton Peterson opened the frame with a single and quickly stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Jillian Hodel chased home Peterson with an RBI groundout and was followed by singles from Lauren Matlock and Merissa Frasier. Lauren Matlock then swiped home on a double steal for a 6-2 lead.
Ocosta (7-4, 6-4) got a run back on an error in the bottom of the sixth, but PWV once again responded with a pair of runs in the top of the seventh on an RBI sacrifice fly by Grace Huber, with Dani Shannon scoring a second run on an error during the play.
Olivia Matlock struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh to pick up the 8-3 win.
Peterson (3-4, 2B, R, RBI), Lauren Matlock (2-4, R) and Olivia Matlock (2-3, HR, 2B, R, 2RBI) each had multi-hit games for PWV.
Olivia Matlock allowed just two hits — both to Gilbert — while striking out 13 in picking up the complete-game victory.
While PWV picked up the win, Ocosta earned a moral victory as it was the first time in eight meetings that the Wildcats did not lose to PWV via the 10-run mercy rule.
But in the nightcap, sixth-ranked PWV showed why they are one of the perennial favorites to win a state title.
The Titans opened up Game 2 with seven runs in the first inning, with five Titans collecting RBI singles in the frame, including a two-run base hit by Lauren Matlock to give PWV a 7-0 lead.
Ocosta scored a run in the top of the second on an RBI single by Zaida Morales, but PWV’s high-octane offense continued to make contact, scoring six more runs in the bottom half of the inning, highlighted by RBI doubles from Ava Bush and Lauren Matlock.
In the bottom of the third, PWV recorded a mercy-rule, walk-off win when Peterson singled to score Grace Huber for a 16-1 victory.
Portmann (3-3, 2B, 3 R, RBIs) and Huber (3-3, 3 R, 3 RBIs) had three hits apiece while Lauren Matlock (2-3, 2B, 2 R, 3 RBIs), Olivia Matlock (2-3, 2 R, RBI) and Bush (2-3, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBIs) also had multi-hit games for the Titans.
Dani Shannon picked up the win for PWV, allowing an earned run on three hits in three innings pitched.
Wildcats standout pitcher Annika Hollingsworth took the loss, allowing eight earned runs on 14 hits in 2 1/3 innings pitched.
Hollingsworth didn’t get much help from her defense as Ocosta — which committed four errors in the Game 1 loss — recorded six errors in Game 2 — leading to eight unearned runs.
“There were so many fly balls that should have been caught, and balls that were dropped,” Ocosta head coach Barbara Rasmus said of her team’s defense. “(PWV) makes you pay for it. … And then we were playing defense toward the edges and then they started hitting up the middle. They know what they are doing. They are a well-coached team.”
PWV head coach Ken Olsen said that it took some time for his offense to adjust to the hard-throwing Wildcats pitching staff.
“Jess (Gilbert) is a good pitcher and a solid thrower and so is Annika (Hollingsworth),” Olson said of the Ocosta starters. “It took us probably three innings to get going. That is what I was proud of with our kids. They stayed with it and didn’t get frustrated. … Both Jessie and Annika throw at approximately the same speed, and if we see that same speed two games in a row, the second pitcher is going to take it on the chin a little bit because we are probably going to get used to it and we did.”
The wins put PWV in prime position for a league title as their two remaining league opponents — South Bend and North Beach — have three league wins combined this season.
PWV sits two full games ahead of Forks with four league games left to play for the top spot in the 2B Pacific League.
Ocosta is the first team to hold PWV to less than 10 runs in a league game this season.
With the losses, Ocosta sits a half-game behind Raymond for third place in the league standings with two games still to play against the Seagulls on May 3.
Rasmus said her team’s performance in the first game will help to get over the sting of the sweep.
“I thought we really played well in that first game,” she said. “I think we just concentrate on that one and get past (Game 2). We didn’t play our best so the first game is what we will focus on.”
Olson said having nine talented upperclassmen is a welcome luxury that has resulted in success.
“I’m just blessed to have a pretty good group of kids,” he said. “I have a bunch of seniors and they are pretty good leaders.”
PWV takes on South Bend starting at 3 p.m. Friday in South Bend.