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Lady Knights rally late in loser-out Regional game to advance to State tourney

ELLENSBURG - The Sunnyside Christian High School girls fastpitch softball team has qualified to play at the 'B' State tournament. It will be the Lady Knights' third appearance at State in the last four years.

Had Sunnyside Christian not rallied in the late going of last Saturday's Regional loser-out game against Kittitas, though, the Lady Knights' season would be in the books. As it turned out, the SCHS club put up a four-spot in the last inning against Kittitas to claim a come-from-behind 5-4 victory.

"It was a great comeback," said SCHS Coach Sandy Harris, who'll be taking her third Lady Knight team to State in the four years Sunnyside Christian has fielded a fastpitch program.

"But I wasn't surprised by it," she added. "All season long these girls have been really determined to win. It seems like they pull it together when they have to."

And boy, did the Lady Knights have to when they found themselves on the short end of a 4-1 score with just one at-bat remaining against Kittitas.

Following a strikeout to open the last inning, the only K recorded by the Coyotes' pitcher, sophomore Jacqui Roberts started the rally by slapping a single. Fellow sophomore Brittany den Hoed followed with a single to right-center. On the unsuccessful attempt to throw out the streaking Roberts at third, den Hoed moved up to second. Yet another sophomore, Tori Van Wingerden, then stepped to the plate and cracked a groundout for the second out of the inning. But on the throw to first, Roberts raced home to make it a 4-2 game. On the play, den Hoed rounded third and the Kittitas first baseman hesitated to chase her back to the bag. Inching towards home with the Coyote first baseman still clutching the ball, den Hoed suddenly made a break for the plate and ended up beating the throw, drawing the Lady Knights to within 4-3.

With nobody aboard, the rally started anew when senior Tyssyna Van Wingerden singled, followed by junior Courtney Rice drawing a walk. With destiny seemingly on their side, the Lady Knights then knotted the game up at 4-4 on an RBI single lashed between short and second off the bat of Emily Hernandez. With the older Van Wingerden scoring the tying run and Rice moving up to third on the play, Carly DeGroot stepped to the plate and quickly dug an 0-2 hole for herself. But showing tenacity, DeGroot fouled off three or four heaters before delivering the game winner-a hotshot grounder to short that ended up being thrown wide of the first baseman. Rice skipped home with the winning run on the errant throw.

Sunnyside Christian's first run against Kittitas came in the bottom of the fifth, after Abby Berkompas bunted her way aboard, stole second and came home on a bunt single off the bat of Roberts.

The sophomore Roberts reached base all three times she went to the plate against the Coyotes, officially recording a 2-for-3 effort. Hernandez added a 4-for-4 performance for the winners.

In the second Regional tourney game Saturday, played for seeding purposes to State, Sunnyside Christian eked out a 4-3 win over the Entitat Tigers. The victory boosted the Lady Knights' record to 21-3.

Sunnyside Christian scored what would prove to be the winning run in the top of the sixth. Rice plated the run for the Lady Knights after singling her way on base and coming round to score on a grounder to short off the bat of Emma Newhouse.

SCHS trailed the Tigers by a 2-1 count heading into its fifth at-bat, but took the lead for good in the top of the fifth by pushing two runs across the plate. Roberts and den Hoed had singles in the frame, and the younger Van Wingerden spanked a two-run double to account for the scoring. It was den Hoed who drove in the first run of the game for Sunnyside Christian, off an RBI single in the top of the third.

The key play of the game against Entitat, though, may have come in the bottom of the fifth. And surprisingly, it was sparked by an underclassman. With two Tigers in scoring position, an Entitat batter launched a shot over the head of the freshman Newhouse, the Lady Knights' right fielder. What looked to be a sure triple turned into a double play, though, as Newhouse raced back and miraculously made the catch. Wheeling around, she threw a strike to the second base bag, doubling off the runner to avert a potential catastrophy.

"Our younger kids sure came through on Saturday," said Harris, but who quickly added that the two postseason wins were the result of a true team effort.

In looking ahead to the State tournament opener, set for this coming Friday at Yakima's new Kiwanis softball complex, the Lady Knights have a worthy opponent for their noon game in the DeSales Irish.

"DeSales consistently makes it to State," said Harris. "They have a good team."

A win over the Irish will advance Sunnyside Christian to a 6 p.m. Friday evening game. A loss to DeSales will require the Lady Knights to play a loser-out game Friday afternoon at 4 p.m.

Sunnyside Christian will enter State tournament play with the confidence of knowing that five of its players are selections to this year's Greater Columbia 'B' League All-Opponent team. The all-star picks include the Lady Knights' two pitchers-Hernandez (13-3) and DeGroot (8-0)-as well as the senior Van Wingerden, who plays catcher and is hitting at a .386 clip; the third baseman den Hoed, who's batting .378; and the shortstop Rice, who's put up .329 numbers at the plate this season.

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