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Mahayla Gamble seemed to be more comfortable and even pitch better Friday when McNary High got runners on base.

“I think I felt more pressure to do well,” the West Albany junior said.

McNary had six combined runners on base in the first three innings but came away empty. Gamble struck out nine batters in those frames, three straight each time.

Couple with some power hitting by Gamble and others, the Bulldogs ran away with a 10-0 run rule-shortened win in five innings in a game that matched the top two teams in the Greater Valley Conference softball standings.

“She wanted the ball in that position and she trusted her defense,” said Gamble’s battery mate, catcher Hailey Davis, “She knew she was capable so she just had the mindset of, ‘I want this ball, I want to be in this situation.’”

The visiting Celtics (9-4, 4-1) put their first two runners on via hits in the top of the first inning. Gamble responded with three straight strikeouts.

The right-hander and the Bulldogs (10-3, 5-0) responded in the bottom half. McKenzie Kosmicki led off with a single and Davis’ two-run home run to right-center field off McNary starter Faith Danner made it 2-0. Gamble followed with a low line-drive homer to left.

In the second, two walks sandwiching a failed fielder’s choice play helped McNary load the bases. Gamble got back in a groove and struck out three in a row again. The Celtics got a leadoff single in the third before Gamble mowed down the next three.

“She definitely worked her way out of trouble today,” Bulldogs coach Ryan Borde said of Gamble, who finished with 10 strikeouts, three walks and a hit batter while giving up five hits. “McNary is a great offensive team. For her to battle back like that when she’s in tight situations, that just shows you the mental toughness she has.”

The Celtics, of Keizer, scored 10 or more runs in nine of their first 12 games.

Gamble said she used to get in those difficult spots often.

“It helps having Hailey,” Gamble said. “She helps me calm down and she knows what I like to pitch and what to do in those situations.”

With Gamble dealing like she was, West essentially put the game out of reach with five runs in the bottom of the third.

Two Celtics errors helped the Bulldogs load the bases with no outs. Lizzy Johnson beat out a grounder for a single before Kosmicki and fellow freshman Presley Jantzi hit back-to-back two-run doubles to deep center to make it 8-0.

West’s Sophia Lynn reached on an error to open the bottom of the fifth. Johnson’s sacrifice bunt got her to second before Kosmicki walked.

Jantzi then singled a ball to left field that got past fielder Emma Kinler, allowing Lynn to score and Kosmicki to follow with the winning run without a play at the plate.

Davis said her team fed off the momentum of the first inning.

“I think that was huge for us,” she said. “Us and McNary are definitely the two top teams in league and it helped our confidence to be able to go from there. If we can score in the first inning, we get comfortable and we trust ourselves.”

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West has had an infusion of talented first-year varsity players this spring.

Freshmen Jantzi (third base), Kosmicki (center field), Ellie Babbitt (shortstop) and Riley Ramirez (right field) started Friday. All are products of the Northwest Bullets, a top-level travel ball team.

Kosmicki, Jantzi and Babbitt were the top three in the Bulldogs’ lineup. Kosmicki and Jantzi had three hits each.

“They don’t play like freshmen, they play beyond their years,” Borde said. “It’s been awesome to see the chemistry of the older girls on the team, how they’ve all bonded and accepted them. From day one it’s just been absolutely amazing.”

Davis added: “We all love them, we all get along perfectly. I think it helps and the seniors and returners relax, because they know not all the pressure is on them.”

Gamble said her team was excited for the challenge of facing McNary, which shared last year’s GVC regular-season title with McMinnville (two games ahead of West) and was tied with West at the top heading into Friday’s matchup.

The challenge now, Borde said, will be to continue playing at a high level.

The Bulldogs go to Mountain View in Bend on Saturday and return to GVC play Tuesday at McKay (2-9, 0-4) in Salem. Then they travel to McMinnville (8-3, 2-1) next Friday.

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