Blue Devils are 4A softball champions

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It was hugs for the game hero as Alyson Ambler (center) gets surrounded by her catcher Kendsey Hill (left) and Andrea Hamada (with glasses) following Wa-Hi's 1-0 4A state championship win over Marysville-Pilchuck Saturday afternoon in Spokane. Ambler struck out the final batter with winning runs on base and got the Blue Devils' only score, a solo home run.

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Wa-Hi pitcher Alyson Ambler delivers a strike under pressure during the Class 4A state championship game against Marysville-Pilchuck Saturday in Spokane. Ambler delivered the final strike with runners in scoring positions and belted a home run for the only score of the game as Wa-Hi won, 1-0.

SPOKANE - Wa-Hi was up 1-0 and Marysville-Pilchuck had the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh in the 4A title game Saturday in Spokane.

With Alyson Ambler struggling in the circle, all breath was held as she pitched M-P's Riley Fritz a ball and two strikes.

Ambler had walked four on the day and hit a pitcher en route to the bases-loaded situation.

But the junior Big Nine Most Valuable Player dug deep and held on - and struck out Fritz to support her own solo home run in the fourth inning to give the Blue Devils their first 4A softball championship.

It's also the first for any team in the Big Nine.

And with the final strike thrown, Ambler was enveloped in a wave of blue.

"I knew it would come down tight," Ambler said. "The teams here are always good. We tried to emphasize squeeze plays in practice … Everybody was sitting on their tippy-toes. I just wanted to get the out. That (stress) is not a feeling I love, but I love the game."

Ambler was frustrated by the home plate ump throughout, and never got the hang of his strike zone.

"The ump was definitely not my friend all day," Ambler said after the win. "I still don't know his strike zone."

But she stayed cool, venting her frustration at-bat - with a solo homer, her second of the day and third in the tournament, in the fourth inning.

"I knew I had to stay calm because if I started freaking out, then my infielders would freak out," she said of the last few tense minutes in the circle. "If that happened, we'd start having accidents. So I stayed calm."

So did Hope Klicker, Ambler's counterpart in the circle.

Klicker pitched the 1-0 first-game win over Skyview and was at first base while Ambler took control of the mound.

"I was thinking, ‘Come on, Alyson, you've got it, you've got it,'" a very relieved and teary-eyed Klicker said. "And she did it."

Coach Jerry Humphreys knows his team deserves it.

"There was a lot of pressure on us," Humphreys said. "We worked all year to prepare ourselves for situations like that, and I thought the kids did a great job to squeeze this one out. It's a monster win for Alyson."

The Blue Devils outscored four opponents 17-0 in four weekend games - the first team to shut all opponents down in any recent memory, said one Washington Interscholastic Activities Association event organizer.

"We didn't come in with that as our goal," said Ambler of the blanket shutout. "We wanted to win state."

Marysville-Pilchuck managed to scare the Blue Devils.

The Tomahawks' Sacha Clow led off with a walk, while Ambler struggled.

Haley Fritz then hit an infield bunt, which Klicker read to out Fritz. Klicker threw it back Libbie Jimenez, who ran from second to first, to send Clow back to the bench with the second out, while the third batter hit an infield fly to close the inning.

Riley Fritz singled to open the second, while Ambler sat the next two batters down. A Jessica Christensen sacrifice was mishandled by the Blue Devils infield, allowing her to first and moving R. Fritz to second, then third, with two outs. Ambler walked the next batter to load the bases.

But the final M-P batter of the inning - with three balls and two strikes - hit an infield fly to first to end the threat.

The Blue Devils, meanwhile, didn't make it closer than first in the first three innings, until Ambler's own solo shot to open the fourth and all scoring.

By the bottom of the seventh, Wa-Hi - the visiting team for its first game all weekend due to coin toss - had failed to add an insurance run, despite a Janelle Hartford double in the fifth.

In the bottom of the seventh, three outs between Wa-Hi and school history, M-P's Monica Clow had two strikes but was struck by Ambler on the third pitch to walk to first. Zachary singled, and S. Clow hit a fielder's choice to out M. Clow, putting runners on first and second.

Haley Fritz then hit a short bunt, but Ambler raced forward to tag out Zachary on her way home for the second out and putting runners on first and third.

Ambler then walked Megan Rollins to load the bases.

The pitcher stuck with the plan of staying cool, sitting down final M-P batter R. Fritz with one ball and three strikes and the historic win.

"We pitched some great games," Klicker said of the weekend, which saw the pitching pair combined for 35 strikeouts in the four games. "This wasn't Alyson's best game, but she kept it and got the win."

Ambler had five strikeouts in the championship win, while Klicker had nine in the morning's victory.

Kendsey Hill caught for both aces.

"It was a blur," the sophomore said of the seconds after the final out. "After the last out, it went crazy, then, really, it went black, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. I was just thinking, ‘I can't let anything get by me. If I do …'"

If she did, the very least M-P could do was bring home a tying run, if not the winner.

"I knew Al would get it done," Hill said. "I had confidence in her. I'm really proud of how we all worked together and got things done when we needed to."

Wa-Hi picked up its only loss of the season to Richland during regular-season play. The Bombers were the only other Eastern team in the tournament, and won one and lost two games Friday to head home.

Bomber friends were texting the Blue Devils, asking them to keep the hardware in Eastern Washington, Ambler said.

"They wanted to make sure it stayed here," she said.

Now, the Wa-Hi name is on the trophy.

The win gives seniors Klicker, Savanah Scarborough and Ashley Bezdicek a happy end to their Blue Devils careers.

The team was sixth at state in 2007 and didn't make it in 2008. They were third outright in 2009 and in a six-way tie for third in the rain-shortened 2010 tournament.

"There's no better way for the seniors to end the season than a win at the end of the year," Humphreys said.

His seniors know it.

"I'm speechless," Klicker said, amid well-wishers and hugs. "It's all I've dreamed of since I started high school softball - to win state and feel the power of winning and my team, and knowing this is the best team in Wa-Hi history. It's amazing."

Klicker will continue her softball career at NCAA DI College of Charleston, where she'll play first base.

Teammates Scarborough and Bezdicek were also emotional at the tension-filled end.

"This is what we've been working for since forever," said third basemen Bezdicek. "This is for all of Walla Walla. It's great to bring something back."

And Scarborough is looking forward to class Tuesday.

"It's what we'll all be talking about at school," she said. "We've been working our butts off for so long."

The pride and elation at the win will follow the Blue Devils home.

"This means the world to us and the town of Walla Walla," said junior shortstop Andrea Hamada. "This is a great feeling for everybody. There's so much spirit and we wouldn't be here if it weren't for our parents and fans, who are really the ones who put so much time and money into this. We're playing for all of them."

4A State Championship Game

Wa-Hi 1, Marysville-Pilchuck 0

Wa-Hi 000 100 0 - 1 3 2

M-P 000 000 0 - 0 4 1

Ambler and Hill; R. Fritz, M. Clow and Christensen.

HR - Wa-Hi 1: Ambler.

Hits - Wa-Hi: Ambler, Hartford, Klicker. M-P: R. Fritz, H. Fritz 2, Zachary.

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