Panthers break playoff curse

Washougal softball beats Mark Morris in final at-bat

Kayla Lagerquist (left) and Abby Young (right) pounce on Madisen Baldwin after she drove in the tying and winning runs for Washougal in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Panthers beat Mark Morris 5-4 Monday, to get to the district tournament for the first time since 2004. Buy this photo

Chalk this victory up as the biggest one in the last decade of Washougal High School softball.

Mark Morris rallied from two runs down to take the lead in the top of the seventh inning Monday, but the Panthers dug their nails into the dirt and refused to lose.

Courtney Shelley kicked off the comeback charge by lacing a 2-out single up the middle, stealing second base and advancing to third base on a pitch off the catcher’s glove. Morgan Ratcliff walked and took the open second base to set the table for Madisen Baldwin.

The junior team captain anticipated the outside pitch, made solid contact on the ball and stroked it past the right fielder where it could roll forever. Shelley and Ratcliff came around the score, and Baldwin stood on second base with a huge smile on her face. After losing seven pigtail playoff games since 2004, the Panthers are going back to the district tournament.

“We have been waiting a long time for this,” said assistant coach Heather Carver. “The fact that this young of a team is tasting the playoffs for the first time is a priceless moment. They are going to be able to feed off this energy for years to come.”

Baldwin would not be denied Monday. She lives for those opportunities to drive in runs at the plate. She had 4 RBI in the game.

“This is why I love softball,” Baldwin said. “You feel like you’re going to have a heart attack during the game. But afterwards, you feel phenomenal. Like you can do anything.”

Kayla Lagerquist pitched seven strong innings for Washougal and gained 12 strikeouts. The freshman surrendered the tying runs in the top of the seventh, but struck out the last two batters she faced to keep it a one-run game. Shelley, Ratcliff and Baldwin came through for Lagerquist and Washougal in the bottom of the seventh.

“It’s just like Christmas,” Baldwin said. “This is the most we have ever felt like a team. Nobody hung their heads, our rally caps were on and we had lots of confidence. I just fed off that energy.”

Washougal (9-7) hosts Ridgefield today and wraps up league at Hockinson Wednesday. Both games begin at 4:30 p.m. The district tournament starts Thursday, May 22, in Centralia.

“We are no stranger to adversity,” said head coach John Carver. “The big difference this year is we are finding ways to overcome it.”