SPOKANE - Alyson Ambler, plus small ball, plus stellar defense, proved to be the formula for success in Wa-Hi's Class 4A fastpitch regional opener on the University High School campus here Friday.
Ambler threw a one-hit shutout from the circle, Wa-Hi went to the small ball attack to score four times in the third inning, and the Blue Devils played errorless defense as they bounced back from their first loss of the year last weekend to Richland, 2-1, to move to the regional winner's bracket.
Wa-Hi posted a 7-0 win over Gonzaga Prep, the Greater Spokane League's No. 3 seed.
"That was a kid (GP pitcher Shelby Harbison) that wasn't the fastest pitcher," Wa-Hi coach Jerry Humphreys said. "We had a little bit of a tough time adjusting to her.
"It kind of feels like we're back," Humphreys said. "We were kind of humbled after last week (the 2-1 loss to Richland). We were a little frustrated by it (the loss) and it took us a couple of innings today, but then things kind of settled down."
Wa-Hi went to the home third in a scoreless dual and went to the small ball attack after a lead-off single by Paige Pontarolo. Alicia Baker followed with a sacrifice bunt that she beat out for a hit, and Pontaralo raced to third, with Baker moving to second, while the Bullpups attempted to get Pontarolo at third.
Jill McDaniels put down a squeeze bunt to get Pontarolo home with the game's first run, and McDaniels reached as Gonzaga Prep tried unsuccessfully to get Pontarolo at the plate. Andrea Hamada followed with a ground ball out to get Baker home. Ambler's infield hit produced McDaniels, then a rare long ball, a Vicki Reardon double, chased Ambler home for a 4-0 Wa-Hi lead.
"We needed it (to work on small ball)," Ambler said. "We needed it against Richland in our loss, but we couldn't use it because we hadn't practiced it."
That changed after the loss.
"We've been working on the small ball stuff this week," Humphreys said. "By the way they (GP) set their defense, we had the opportunity to try it out. It worked pretty good."
A three-run fifth highlighted by four consecutive Blue Devil hits, including Ambler's two-run home run over the centerfield fence, sealed the deal. Libby Jimenez doubled to start the rally and Ambler followed with her blast. Hope Klicker doubled and Reardon knocked her home with a single. Ambler and the Blue Devil defense took it from there.
Ambler started with slow stuff and then increased the velocity to keep GP off balance and retire the first 18 hitters she faced.
"At the beginning, I wasn't quite warm, and I did (go with more breaking pitches)" Ambler said. "It took awhile to get my arm loose. Once the game got going, I found my rhythm and momentum."
The hardest hit ball off Ambler, came in the fifth. Christie Tombari led off for the Bullpups and screeched a liner just foul down the left field line.
"That was a mistake pitch," Ambler said. "(But) it was just a long, hard strike."
Ambler struck out Tobbari and cruised into the seventh with her perfect game in tack. Julia Rambo led off the Gonzaga Prep seventh. Ambler went to a 3-1 count on Rambo, but battled back to get a ground ball up the middle.
McDaniels, at second base, backhanded the grounder, but Rambo legged it out to ruin the perfect game and no-hitter.
"We all believe she was out," Ambler said of the close play at first. "It was a tough play for Jill (McDaniels). They got one (hit), and that'll do."
Ambler retired the next three in a row and finished with seven strikeouts and did not walk a batter. And the Blue Devil defense handled the other 14 chances behind her perfectly.
Klicker, Ambler and Reardon led the Wa-Hi offense with two hits each.
The win, coupled with Southridge's 9-0 defeat of University, sent the Blue Devils to a 10 a.m. Saturday matchup with the Suns for a state ticket.
Gonzaga Prep 000 000 0 - 0 1 1
Wa-Hi 004 030 x - 7 9 0
Harbison and Ramsey. Ambler and Reardon, Hill (6).
HR - Wa-Hi: Ambler.
Hits: GP: Ju. Rambo; Wa-Hi: Klicker 2, Pontarolo, Baker, Ambler 2, Reardon 2, Jimenez.