SPOKANE — Close but no cigar.
Walla Walla High School’s improbable run through the class 4A state softball tournament came up two runs short here at Merkel Sports Complex Saturday afternoon. Puyallup, behind the pitching of Marissa Miller edged the Blue Devils, 4-2.
Wa-Hi was essentially left for dead two weeks ago when Richland blew the Blue Devils out in the Mid Columbia Conference 4A championship tilt, but the Blue devils resurrected themselves to pull off a second-place finish here at the state tournament for the second time in three years.
“After not making it to state last year, and we didn’t have a perfect season (this year) as we lost like five games and got beat around a couple of times, we wanted this,” Blue devil senior co-captain Ellie Rassbach said. “Our team had to overcome a lot of obstacles, but at the end of the season our goal was to come to state and compete. That’s what we did.”
After earning a ticket to the championship game with a 7-4 decision over Bethel Saturday morning, the Vikings got a two-out RBI single from Natalie Joyner in the Viking first to grab an early 1-0 lead. Rassbach reached on an error to open the Blue devil second. Jacie McDaniels followed with her first of two hits on the night, but Miller turned Wa-Hi away empty-handed.
The Vikings got another two-out run-scoring hit from Emily Ensrud to stretch the lead to 2-0 after two.
Alexis Leighty lined a single to center to open the Wa-Hi third, but Miller got the next three Blue Devils.
“We did have opportunities,” Wa-Hi coach Kate Keyes said. “Two good teams. We left some runners on and had some things that just didn’t quite bounce our way this time. It was a great game that could’ve gone either way.”
Wa-Hi broke through in the fourth. McDaniels singled and went to second when the right fielder misplayed the ball. With two outs, Keziah Doyle dumped one into short right field and McDaniels scored to narrow the gap to 2-1.
The Vikings responded as Ensrud slapped an off field double that stirred up the chalk down the left field line to start the Viking fifth. After a Wa-Hi bobble, Joyner tripled to right center to knock in two runs and expand the Viking lead to 4-2 after five.
Wa-Hi made one last push as Jordy Storm was hit by a Miller pitch to open the sixth. Rassbach singled and Kate Ferenz lined a single to right to score Storm. Miller, who went to her offspeed repertoire over the last innings to keep the Blue Devils off stride, ended the sixth with a strikeout — one of her nine on the night. Miller put Wa-Hi down in order in the seventh to give Puyallup its first ever 4A fastpitch title.
“She (Miller) saved her change up and that was real smart,” Keyes commented. “She got through (our) line up the first time and then brought out the change which threw us off a little bit.”
The Blue Devils went 3-1 at the tournament and take home the second place trophy.
“We had a heck of a run,” Keyes said of the weekend. “They should be proud of where they are at.”
Wa-Hi seniors Rassbach, McDaniels, Maddie Fortney and Maddy Aichele end their Wa-Hi careers with the second place trophy.
“We wouldn’t have been here without them,” Keyes added. “They deserve this. Our saying this year has been ‘day after day’. They came out day after day and gave 100 percent.”
“We’ve played together since we were 12,” Rassbach said of her fellow seniors. “We’re (a) pretty tight-knit group. It means a lot to me to have this be the last weekend that we play together, and to have a great weekend.”
Wa-Hi 7, Bethel 4
The Blue Devils ended their semifinal pregame huddle with the cry of ‘score first’. Aichelle preceded to lead off the game with a single to right. Following two walks, Aichelle scored the first Blue devil run on McDaniels’ infield grounder. Wa-Hi tacked on one more and took a 2-0 lead to the home first.
“It was very important (to score first),” senior third baseman Aichele said. “We were up by a couple, but you can’t count on that as they (Bethel) are a good hitting team. It was important that we got a couple more insurance runs.”
A Storm RBI double made it 3-0 after two. Ferenz hit a double to bring home McDaniels, who opened the Wa-Hi fifth with a single, and the Blue Devils led the Braves, 4-1 after five.
Brandi Schoessler, in the Blue devil circle, limited the Braves to a run-scoring single by Brittany Genuardi in the Brave fourth, although a Storm-to-Whitney Enriquez-to-Rassbach double play on a hot smash ended the fifth for the Braves.
Following Storm’s and McDaniels’ RBI singles, the Braves came to bat with Wa-Hi needing six outs to reach the finals. The Wa-Hi defense bent, but didn’t break. A bunt base hit, a Bri Stutheit hit, a Wa-Hi error and a grounder got the Braves a run and left them with the bases loaded and no outs.
“They (Bethel) did some good things,” Keyes said of the Brave sixth. “They put the ball in play and put some pressure on us. We didn’t make some routine plays and struggled fielding their short game.”
No outs, bases loaded and Genuardi lifted a fly to right fielder Doyle. Doyle uncorked a perfect throw to the plate to nail Stutheit for the second out of the inning. But an errant throw allowed two more runs to score. Schoessler struck out the third out and Wa-Hi clung to a 6-4 lead after six.
“Our goal is not to spiral (down),” Keyes added. “That (Doyle) throw just shut them down and put the momentum back in our court. We took care of it from there.”
Aichele reached on an error with two outs in the seventh. Lauren Likes doubled her to third and Aichele scored her third run of the game on a mishandle of Rassbach’s grounder. Wa-Hi took a 7-4 lead to the Brave seventh.
“It was really important (to get that seventh inning run),” Aichele added. “It took a lot of pressure off our pitcher.”
Schoessler got three quick outs and Wa-Hi moved on with a 7-4 win. Schoessler went the distance and allowed five hits and struck out nine. The Wa-Hi offense produced 13 hits with Aichele’s three and Storm’s, Likes’ and McDaniels’ two each leading the way.
Championship: Puyallup 4, Wa-Hi 2
Wa-Hi 000 101 0 — 2 6 2
Puyal 110 020 X — 4 8 2
Schoessler and McDaniels; Miller and Perez.
HR — none.
Hits — WW: McDaniels 2, Leighty, Doyle, Rassbach, Ferenz; Puyal: Bartelson, Joyner 2, Ensrud 3, Plumb, Jellison.
Wa-Hi 7, Bethel 4
Wa-Hi 210 012 1 — 7 13 2
Bethel 000 103 0 — 4 5 4
Schoessler and McDaniels; Thomas and Genuardi.
HR — none.
Hits — WW: Aichele 3, Doyle, Storm 2, Rassbach, Enriquez, Likes 2, McDaniels 2, Ferenz; Bet: Genuardi 2, Carter, Michelson, Stutheit.