YAKIMA - A pair of teams from the Pullman area proved to be the undoing of the Sunnyside Christian Lady Knights.
Competing at this past weekend's WIAA 1B State Girls Fastpitch Softball Tournament, Sunnyside Christian tallied a 1-2 record to scratch out a top-six finish. Unfortunately for the Lady Knights, only the top four finishing teams at State walked off with trophies.
"Not getting a trophy shouldn't be the deciding factor, it shouldn't define how good of a season we had," Sunnyside Christian Coach Sandy Harris said after having a day to reflect on her club's performance at State.
Considering her Lady Knights swept through league play unbeaten and then won three more games to capture the District 5/6 championship, Harris may be right on point. Her words ring even truer when you factor in that Sunnyside Christian had a total of just 10 girls turn out for the spring season, barely enough to field a varsity squad. To top it off, several of the Lady Knights had to learn to play different positions from the ones they anchored the previous season.
"From where we started this season to where we finished, I think our girls should be very proud of themselves," Harris said.
Of the three games Sunnyside Christian played at State, staged at Yakima's Gateway Sports Complex, it was last Friday's opener that illustrated just how gutsy this Lady Knight crew was. Taking on two-time defending 1B State champion Colton, who went on to secure a third consecutive State title, Sunnyside Christian went tit-for-tat with the Wildcats, pushing them to extra innings.
Based on what she had seen from her team all season long, Harris believed heading into the match-up with Colton that her Lady Knights were every bit as good as their opponents.
"I really thought we'd be able to play with them," she said of the defending two-time State champs.
Harris was right.
Colton, behind the 2-for-4 offensive performances of Molly Kramer and Jenna Moser, tallied single runs in the top of the second and third innings to forge the early advantage.
Sunnyside Christian cut the deficit to 2-1 in the bottom of the third, however. Third baseman Emily Bangs, who had a 2-for-4 effort of her own that game, got the rally going by singling her way aboard. Bangs got erased at second on a fielder's choice off the bat of Gabby Filicetti, but the right-fielder advanced one bag on a passed ball, moved to third on a groundout and then raced home when center-fielder Grace den Hoed came through with a single.
The cat-and-mouse affair proceeded with both clubs tacking on single runs in the fourth frame to make it a 3-2 game. Sunnyside Christian plated its second run of the contest, ironically, without the benefit of a hit. Senior first baseman Janelle DeGroot reached first on one of two errors Colton committed in the game. A walk drawn by Jenna den Hoed and two passed balls allowed DeGroot to cross the dish.
Colton went ahead 4-2 in the top of the fifth, but the Lady Knights stormed back in their half of the inning to knot the game at 4-all. Senior shortstop Analisa VanOostrum coaxed a walk from Wildcat hurler Mikayla Nygren to open the bottom of the fifth. A ringing triple by second baseman Devi Knotts plated VanOostrum to pull Sunnyside Christian to within one run. The Wildcats then committed their second error of the game when catcher Danika DeGroot put a ball into play, which allowed Knotts to scoot home with the tying run.
Neither club was able to mount scoring threats in the sixth or seventh innings, so the game went into overtime. One of the big reasons Sunnyside Christian was able to keep the Wildcats at bay was because of the performance of sophomore hurler Makayla Morrow. The underclassman, through the seven regulation innings, yielded just six hits to Colton. For the game, Morrow struck out nine Wildcat batters while walking only one.
"I can't say enough about the job Makayla did pitching for us at State, the entire season for that matter," said Harris. "She and our catcher, Danika (DeGroot), are one of the best battery mates around."
Colton found its groove, though, in the top of the eighth. Consecutive singles by Kramer, Erin Webber and Taylor Nilson resulted in one run scoring. Another base runner crossed the plate on a Sunnyside Christian error, with a third Wildcat skipping across the dish on an RBI single off the bat of Kaitlin Druffel.
Down by three heading into its final at-bat, Sunnyside Christian opened the bottom half of the eighth with a fly-out. But, things got interesting when the younger of the two DeGroot sisters slapped a single. A grounder by the elder of the sisters, Janelle, forced out younger sibling Danika at second. Jenna den Hoed drew a walk, pushing the older DeGroot into scoring position. Bangs then stepped to the plate and as she has done several times since the postseason got underway a couple of weeks ago, clutched up and delivered an RBI single, cutting Colton's lead to 7-5.
Nygren stiffened, however, and recorded her fifth strikeout of the game to bring the extra-inning affair to an end.
"I can't say anything negative about the way it turned out in our State tourney opener," Harris said.
"The girls gave it their best shot. They left everything they had in them out on the field that day."
With only a 20 to 25-minute turn-around between the Colton game and an ensuing loser-out contest against the Quilcene Warriors, the Lady Knights didn't have the opportunity to dwell on the heartbreaking loss.
"The girls didn't have time to hang their heads," said Harris. "I think that was a good thing."
Sunnyside Christian wasted little time in taking charge of game two, enticing nine walks out of Quilcene pitcher Sami Rowe to forge an 8-1 lead in the opening inning. The frame was capped off with an RBI single off the bat of Grace den Hoed. It was den Hoed who brought an end to the game, itself, when she socked a two-run homer to right-center in the bottom of the sixth. The blast gave the Lady Knights a 14-3 lead, which evoked the 10-run mercy rule.
Besides the 3-for-5 performance by den Hoed, Sunnyside Christian got a pair of 2-for-4 efforts at the plate from Bangs and Jenna den hoed in the dominating victory over Quilcene.
The Lady Knights returned to the Yakima softball fields on Saturday for the right to advance to the trophy round. Facing the Garfield-Palouse Vikings in yet another loser-out game, Sunnyside Christian had its chances but kept coming up empty, eventually succumbing by a 4-0 score.
Gar-Pal managed just six hits and one walk off Morrow, but was able to turn those opportunities into four runs.
Sunnyside Christian had five hits of its own, all single-base knocks by Morrow, Knotts, Filicetti, Grace den Hoed and Danika DeGroot.
The problem was, said Harris, "...we just couldn't string our hits together."
The best scoring chance for the Lady Knights came in the bottom of the sixth, trailing 2-0, when they loaded the bases. A harmless grounder back to Viking pitcher Emily Withuhn got Gar-Pal out of the jam, however.
Garfield-Palouse went on to thrash Selkirk by a 16-5 score in the trophy round game for third and fourth-place honors. Colton won its third straight State title via a 10-8 decision over Almira Coulee-Hartline in the championship game.
Sunnyside Christian, by going 1-2 at State, concludes the 2011 spring season with an overall record of 20-6.
"We lose our entire infield and one of our outfielders to graduation," said Harris.
"But we bring back four starters next year, which includes our pitching and catching battery.
"That will be a lot of this year's eighth graders we'll have to work into the line-up, so it will be a challenge.
"But that's what makes it fun, right?" she smiled.