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Softball sisterhood

A trio of sisters, Ellie and Hollie Christensen, Paris and Natalie Orchard, and Audrey and Gabriella Sanchez, have helped the College Place softball team back into postseason play as the Hawks host Granger today for their first home playoff game ever.

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Clockwise from top left - Hollie and Ellie Christensen, Gabriella and Audrey Sanchez, and Paris and Natalie Orchard. 

COLLEGE PLACE — Three names (Orchard, Sanchez and Christensen) make up two-thirds of a versatile starting lineup for College Place as it hosts Granger in the first round of district softball play this afternoon at 4 p.m.

Orchard sisters comprise the battery, Paris pitching and Natalie catching.

Both made All-South Central Athletic Conference East.

The infield today also includes a pair of Christensen sisters, Ellie (also All-SCAC) having moved in from the outfield to play shortstop next to Hollie at third base.

Both of the versatile Sanchez sisters now cover the outfield, Audrey in left and Gabriella (another All-SCAC) switched from second base to center. 

“It’s kind of interesting when I write up the lineup,” Hawks coach Corey Davis said. “There’s spaces for nine names, but most of the time, I’m only writing six last names.

“All six of them are great kids.”

The Hawks also have two more All-SCAC players in Jordon Holso and Jenna Mendoza.

Holso is second on the Hawks with 21 runs batted in, and Mendoza is hitting .383 with 18 RBIs.

Alondra Gutierrez has also frequented plate appearances, hitting .286 while working 11 walks to match Paris Orchard for second-most on the team.

All of the girls have helped College Place finish its regular season with an overall record of 14-5, including a 10-2 mark in the SCAC East Division that placed them second.

Now at districts, the Hawks are in the running for a berth to state with the top four teams at the conclusion of this double-elimination tournament advancing.

Win or lose today, College Place will play again on Saturday at Connell to complete the tournament.

“If we take care of business, we should (get to state),” Davis said. “We have as good a chance as anybody.”

College Place has come this far with three talented sets of sisters.

Paris Orchard has pitched more than 92 of the 106.1 total innings this season, mostly with her younger sister Natalie behind the plate.

Both made All-SCAC for the second year in a row.

Paris, now a senior at College Place — and also one of the finalists for Blue Mountain Sports Awards Female Athlete of the Year — was named 2019 SCAC East Player of the Year. 

Natalie (now a junior) played second base last year when she made All-SCAC, but when the catching position became vacant this season, she turned herself into an all-star backstop.

On April 27, the Orchards battery put together a pair of no-hitters in a doubleheader at River View.

“I like throwing to her because I trust her a lot, and she knows how I throw,” Paris said of her sister. “We talk softball a lot.

“We’re, like, 22 months apart (in age), so we’ve kind of taught each other everything.”

Natalie has come to relish her new position.

“I really like it,” Natalie said of catcher. “I wish I had started it sooner.

“It’s different for me because I never caught before, but it’s a thrill being back there,” Natalie said. “Sometimes she throws it too hard and it stings my hand, but that’s just part of the game.”

Davis likes how the Orchards work together.

“They’ve been through some battles,” Davis said. “They take this very seriously, and they play on the westside all the time in the summer and the fall.

“It’s a delight to have them because they know the game, they know what to do,” Davis said. “They’re competitive, and they have talent.

“When you add all that up, I really makes my job easier.”

Paris also shines atop the Hawks batting order, leading them in hits (31), runs (36) and total bases (47).

Natalie has taken the cue from the third spot in the order, and is second in hits (27), second in runs (29), and second in total bases (36).

For the postseason, Davis has decided to nudge Natalie up to the second spot on the heels of Paris and her team-best .632 on-base percentage.

“It puts a little pressure on me, but I like having that feeling that I need to get her to the next base,” Natalie said.

Meanwhile, both Sanchez and Christensen sisters include a junior guiding a freshman into varsity play.

Gabriella and Hollie are the freshmen.

“I think it’s really helped because we’ve asked a lot of those kids this year,” Davis said. “Even though we’re a small school, it’s still kind of rare to have, at certain points, up to five freshmen out there.

“We have to hold our breath a lot, but I think having Ellie (this is her third year) and Audrey (this is actually just her second year, because the Christensens moved from Spokane) helped them to be ready,” Davis said. “They’d been around watching, and the older ones knew what to expect.

“They knew what to tell them, what the expectations were going to be.”

The Sanchez sisters have already tended to hit in succession, often with Gabriella ahead of Audrey.

Already a year round player with travel teams, Gabriella is tied for the Hawk lead in doubles (5) and has made All-SCAC as a honorable mention.

“I’m happy about it because I’ve worked so hard,” Gabriella said.

Audrey is happy to show her support.

“We have this thing where if we get a base hit, we do this handshake, something that me and her both know,” Audrey said. “And when we do the starting lineup and they call her name, we do the little handshake. And then she goes out to the field, and they call me and I go to the outfield, we have cute little handshakes.”

Gabriella has already played much of this season at second base, with Audrey out in left field, but versatility enabled the Hawks to reshuffle positions for the postseason.

The shift puts Gabriella in center field, near Audrey.

“That’s something that’s pretty cool because now that we’re both in the outfield, we kinda have to communicate a little more,” Audrey said. “I know that if I can’t get a ball, she’s going to be there behind me.”

The fielding chance also brings Ellie Christensen in from the outfield to play shortstop, with Hollie at third base.

Ellie leads the Hawks with 22 RBIs from the heart of the batting order, having made the All-SCAC First Team, and has helped welcome her younger sister into the varsity fold.

“It makes the good moments even better when you get to share it with someone close to you, and then talk about it later,” Ellie said.

Hollie may hit lower in the order, but she leads in walks with 12.

“It was kind of hard to get used to this because I don’t play travel ball or anything,” Hollie said. “I just played in middle school, so this was a big step up.

“I really wanted to make a big impression,” she said, adding that Ellie shared her own experience. “She kind of told me what the expectations were.”

Communication has been key to bringing the College Place team together.

“I think there is a close bond,” Davis said. “It’s helped me out a lot because I can go to them, especially with some of the younger sisters being freshmen, I can go to the older ones and ask, ‘How are they doing today, are they going to be able to handle those?’

“I can get some advice from someone who knows them their whole life,” Davis said. “It’s definitely been a big help in that regard, just the communication.”

Hector writes stories about local sports, helps produce the daily section and updates the web site. A lifelong sports nut having grown up in Maryland, he joined the U-B with more than 15 years experience in journalism.

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