WALLA WALLA — When you are No. 2, you try harder.
Walla Walla High School, which finished runner up to Richland in the final Mid-Columbia Conference 4A standings, walked away with the District 5 softball title here Saturday.
Wa-Hi survived a scare from Chiawana before pulling out an 11-4 win to earn a shot at Richland for the district title.
Wa-Hi saw the Bombers come back from a seven-run deficit to tie the game at 8-8 after six. The Blue Devils scored two in the seventh to earn the District Championship with a 10-8 win.
“Richland is a great ball club and they put the pressure on us all day,” Wa-Hi coach Kate Keyes said. “Our defense took care of business as we had no errors. You can’t complain how we came out and worked together. It took every kid on the team to make it happen.”
The Blue Devils took advantage of two Bomber errors and an Ellie Rassbach RBI single to grab a 2-0 lead in the first. A Kendsey Hill run-scoring single, a two-run triple from Mattie Smyth, and a RBI single by Carly Clark sparked a five run Wa-Hi third and pushed the lead to 7-0.
A three-run double by Richland’s Kayla Andrews and a bases loaded walk got the Bombers back into it at 7-4 after three.
Richland, on a Monica Hebky squibber that got through the Wa-Hi right side for a two-run single, got it even at 8-8 with two outs in the sixth. With the go-ahead runs at third and second, Richland’s Courtney Kent hit a drive into left center field. Blue Devil center fielder Smyth made a diving catch to end the threat.
“I saw it off the bat,” Smyth said. “I knew I had to get it or the game would be over. My body just took over, just instinct.”
The Bombers, as they did much of the day with eight errors on the game, continued to shoot themselves in the foot. Clark reached on a Bomber error to open the Wa-Hi seventh. Kate Ferenz moved Clark to second with a sac bunt and Storm grounded out for the second Wa-Hi out.
Then the wheels came off for Richland.
Two consecutive errors led to two Wa-Hi runs and a 10-8 lead.
“We knew it was going to be a battle all day with Richland,” said Wa-Hi catcher Hill, who was a combined eight for nine on the day with four hits in each game. “We just kept our cool and tried to work together. We were still hitting (putting the ball in play), and it worked in our favor.”
Rassbach went to the circle for Wa-Hi to finish her complete game. Rassbach had been in the circle in 90-degree heat for 12 of Wa-Hi’s 14 innings on the day, but got two quick outs in the Bomber seventh.
Two singles and a walk loaded the bases with Bombers and April Utecht drove a sinking line drive to center field, and Smyth did it again with a diving catch to end the game.
“April is a good hitter and I knew the ball was coming to me,” Smyth said. “I knew I had to get a good read on it. At the crack of the bat, I knew I was going to make the play.”
For Rassbach, the day wasn’t always pretty, as she only pitched two 1-2-3 innings of her 12 in the circle, but when the Blue Devils had to have her, she made pitches to get outs.
“I just kept telling her (Rassbach) that our defense was doing really well today and she didn’t have to try and blow it by everybody,” Rassbach’s catcher, Hill, said. “I told her our defense would have her back and she didn’t have to put it all on herself.”
“What don’t you say about Ellie,” Keyes said. “That kid threw a lot of pitches. She just kept at it. She struggled from time to time, but her defense backed her.”
Rassbach, who started the first game in the circle and then came on in relief after the Riverhawks had clawed back to within 6-4, blanked Chiawana over the last three innings before earning her second win of the year over the Bombers.
“It was about taking it one pitch at a time,” Rassbach said. “Focusing on being in the present and not thinking about how many pitches you have already thrown. Our defense played great all day. These victories belong to everybody.”
In the opener, after the Riverhawks narrowed the gap to 6-4, Wa-Hi erupted with a five-run, five-hit sixth. Storm led off with an inside-the-park home run, Hill dropped her fourth hit of the game into center, and Ferenz capped the inning with a run-scoring single.
“I knew if we got our energy up, that would kick start us,” Hill said of the Blue Devil sixth. “It helps us string our hits together. That was good.”
After hosting McLoughlin High School Thursday at the Walla Walla Community College playfields in a non-conference game, Wa-Hi plays the No. 1 seed from the Greater Spokane League in Richland, Saturday.
The winner of that game earns a state ticket. The loser plays the winner of the battle of No. 2’s for the second state berth.
“It put us in a good place,” Keyes said of Wa-Hi’s district championship.
WA-HI 10, RICHLAND 8
Wa-Hi 205 001 2 — 10 12 0
Richland 004 013 0 — 8 13 8
Rassbach and Hill; Andrews, Goulet (3) and Utecht.
Hits — Wa-Hi: Hill 4, Rassbach, Storm, McDaniels, Smyth 2, Clark, Likes 2; RHS: Utecht 2, Bramlett 3, Perryman 3, Merwin, Andrews 2, Hebky, Hinkley.
WA-HI 11, CHIAWANA 4
CHS 011 200 0 — 4 7 4
Wa-Hi 330 005 x — 11 14 0
Martin and Heine; Rassbach, Ferenz (3), Rassbach (5) and Hill.
HR — Wa-Hi: Storm.
Hits — CHS: Sanaski 2, Poma, Cruz, Weber, Maldonado, Moreno; Wa-Hi: Hill 4, Rassbach 2, Storm 2, McDaniels, Aichele 2, Ferenz 2, Likes.