By Jerod Young • Jerod Young • 

Bulldogs setting their goals daily under Vang

Willamina (6-2) beat the much-improved Sheridan Spartans (5-6) 15-11 Friday to bring its record to 6-0 on the early season.

Vang came to Willamina from Barlow, where he helped lead the Bruins to five Mt. Hood Conference titles in seven seasons. He took Barlow to the state finals in 2006, losing to Jesuit 2-1 in nine innings. The Bruins were 27-4 in 2006 and 26-3 in 2008.

Vang admitted he knew nothing about the Bulldogs’ softball program, but said he knew they needed a new focus.

“I didn’t know anything really, but knew this team needed focus,” Vang said. “We’ve won some ball games, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing things right. Right now I would call us a poor softball team, versus what we could be.”

In order to gain a new level of focus, the Bulldogs have started a new ritual.

Before each game, the Willamina players gather in a circle, where each player states a goal they want to accomplish in that game that will help the team win. The new strategy is working, but like Vang, even the players admitted their potential wasn’t maximized in the win over Sheridan.

“We played pretty mediocre,” Wilamina infielder Kaydi Milton said. “We had a lot of problems, a lot of issues but we came out with a win.”

An RBI single by Cheyanne Fasana in the second inning gave the Bulldogs a 4-1 lead, and the Spartans appeared to be running out of gas but surprised Willamina in the third.With two outs in the inning, Sheridan loaded the bases. The Spartans tied the game at four after two wild pitches and a hit batter.

After Lindsey Lumley walked to lead off the fourth inning, she took second and third base on two Willamina pass balls. Lumley scored after two straight wild pitches to give the Spartans a 5-4 lead, and renewed confidence.

Vang didn’t call it a Sheridan comeback, he said it was a Willamina let down.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with Sheridan. It had to do with us not being ready to play,” Vang said. “We have control over two things: Our effort and our attitude, and we didn’t take responsibility for our own actions, and this sort of thing happens.”

After a fiery chat with his team between innings, the Bulldogs came ready to hit in the fifth.

Senior Skyler Graham came in to pitch for Sheridan, and it was a rough inning. Milton led the inning off with a high pop fly to left that was dropped, which allowed her to get to second. Kyra Toney walked, and Sydney France hit a sacrifice that advanced Milton and Toney to second and third, when junior Kari Steere came to plate looking to do damage.

She took the first pitch from Graham, and drove it to left. The double scored Milton and Toney to give Willamina the lead back at 6-5.

“Coach has been telling us to wait back a lot,” Steere said. “I usually swing early, and I’m glad I waited, got a good pitch and just drove it.”

Graham loaded the bases and walked the next two hitters to grow the Bulldog lead to 8-5. Milton came to the plate for the second time in the inning. This time she wasn’t a routine out. Milton drove the third pitch from Graham to deep left field, narrowly missing a grand slam homerun, which instead became a three-run triple that blew the game open, and gave Willamina a 12-5 lead.

“I just wanted to make sure I didn’t disappoint my team,” Milton said. “Just watched it all the way, timed it right, and got a good rip on it.”

Milton finished the day 3-for-4.

Willamina scored its final three runs on a bases loaded sacrifice from Jami Grant, a bases loaded walk, and wild pitch.

Sheridan mounted its comeback in the bottom half of the fifth inning with a two-RBI double by Darci Lee, an RBI triple by Lumley, and an RBI double by Jessica Roberts. The back-to-back-to-back hits trimmed Willamina’s lead to 12-9, but Sheridan’s pitching couldn’t quiet the Bulldogs.

As for the pregame goals, the Bulldogs are taking that seriously, and are putting them into practice. Before the game, Steere said she her goal was to be patience, and wait for a pitch she liked. She finished with a two-RBI double and a walk. Milton said she wanted to do something to set up success for her teammates.

Her contribution included the three-run RBI triple that gave Jill Coblentz a 12-5 lead as she entered in the fifth inning to pitch.

“Setting goals is important for us,” Steere said. “It gives us something to work towards, and it’s been a big part of our success.”

Note: The Bulldogs suffered a pair of losses, their first of the season, Saturday at the Banks Tournament. The lost to Heppner 1-0, and lost 10-0 to Banks. The Bulldogs were scheduled to play at 5 p.m. Monday vs. Gervais, and play at 5 p.m. today at Amity. Sheridan plays at 4:30 p.m. today at Gervais.

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