Derek Wiley
The Bulletin

Ridgeview is one win away from capturing Central Oregon’s first OSAA softball state championship.

But coach Sandy Fischer is sticking with the same singular focus that got the Ravens this far — to a matchup with Dallas Saturday in Eugene for the Class 5A state title.

“Our objective is just to play one pitch at a time and we hope when it’s over that we’re the winner,” Fischer said. “We’re not shooting to be the first anything. We’d love to be, but we’re just trying to finish a very successful season with a (state championship) trophy.”

Ridgeview, the top seed in the 5A playoffs, is only the second Central Oregon team to even play for a state softball title since 1979, when the OSAA began staging softball championships. Crook County lost to Henley for the 4A title in 2017.

Fischer said Central ­Oregon just does not have as many softball players as other parts of the state.

“The biggest problem in Central Oregon is the population,” Fischer said. “We don’t have the population to go around to all the high schools and have a lot of concentrated talent in one place. Our talent is spread out because we don’t have very many youth teams to build from. It’s very lacking, in Redmond for sure. Bend has a few more (youth teams), but in the (Willamette) Valley, youth softball teams over there are abundant.”

Central Oregon schools have been a little more successful in baseball. Last spring, La Pine became just the third area team to win a state championship since the OSAA’s first baseball championship games were played in 1946, following Summit’s 5A title in 2016. Bend High won the area’s only other baseball state championship, taking the Class AAA title in 1987.

The Hawks, the No. 4 seed in the 3A playoffs, will seek to defend their title Friday at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer against Warrenton. La Pine is the first Central Oregon baseball team to play in back-to-back state finals.

“It speaks to the strength of our program from Little League up,” said La Pine coach Bo DeForest of playing for a second straight state title. “Baseball has a lot of life in it right now. We’ve got some good people down at the Little League level through travel ball. Our JV program is strong. We’re just becoming a complete program. I think last year’s group paved the way and showed that it can be done here.”

Both DeForest and Fischer credit local youth programs for the high school teams they have now.

“It all starts at the grass-roots level,” Fischer said. “You cannot be successful without success there, in the long run. That’s why Pendleton is so consistently good. In their area they have very strong youth teams, they just build and build.”

Since 2011, Pendleton has reached the 5A state final five times and has won three championships, including last year’s.

Fischer said she is fortunate to have two assistant coaches, Rick George and Shane Nakamura, who have been heavily involved with travel teams starting as young as age 10.

“A lot of it just depends on the investment in the youth teams,” Fischer said. “There have been people here who have put in the blood, sweat and tears and done it. Eventually that will catch up with the high schools.”

Ridgeview and La Pine are both playing lower-seeded teams in their state championship games.

Dallas, the No. 7 seed in the 5A softball playoffs, defeated No. 10 Putnam, No. 2 Hood River Valley and No. 3 Hillsboro to reach the finals.

“I’ve always heard that they’re very, very good,” Fischer said of Dallas, which lost to Marist in the 5A championship game in 2017. “I know they have really good pitching and hitting. They’re in the championship for a reason, just like we are. I think you’ll have a pitchers’ duel and it’s going to be who are the smart hitters who get the right pitches to hit and of course defense has to be really strong, too.”

Warrenton, the No. 7 seed in the 3A baseball playoffs, reached the finals by defeating No. 10 Burns, No. 2 Brookings-Harbor and No. 3 Santiam Christian.

“It is one of the teams that I know the least about because they’re so far away I haven’t been able to watch them, and we don’t share a lot of the same opponents, but they were on my radar,” DeForest said of Warrenton, located on the northern tip of the Oregon Coast. “They’re around baseball a lot. I think they play really fundamentally sound. They’re pretty creative at manufacturing runs with small ball and they have at least a few pitchers who throw pretty well, too.”

In 23 years at Oklahoma State University, Fischer coached in multiple Big 8 and Big 12 championship games as well as nine College World Series. However, this is her first time coaching in a high school state championship game.

“Being on a college campus is old hat for me,” Fischer said, referring to Saturday’s 5A final at the University of Oregon’s Jane Sanders Stadium. “It will be very new for these young folks to play on a big stage. It’s good for them to feel like they’re special and play on a really big stage. It will be fun.”

La Pine hopes last year’s experience of playing on the big stage — Keizer’s Volcanoes Stadium, home of the San Francisco Giants’ Class A Northwest League affiliate — will benefit the Hawks.

“The biggest thing that we probably have learned from last year is that we can do it,” DeForest said of winning a state title. “And we understand in these high-pressure games that it’s all about making the routine plays and putting the ball in play and trying to create as much pressure as possible. It’s all about just staying present and staying focused and trying to accomplish a goal.”

­­— Reporter: 541-383-0307,