It is one thing to have an inkling in mid-March that your softball team could be good enough to make a run at a playoff spot.
It is another thing completely for longtime coach Tony Batinovich to watch his Puyallup High School squad, made up of one ace pitcher – senior Marissa Miller – and a bunch of mature-thinking underclassmen, and know it is heading full speed toward a South Puget Sound League South Division title.
The Vikings aren’t there just yet, but they took a convincing step in that direction Friday by smashing preseason SPSL South favorite Beamer, 9-1, in Puyallup.
Winners of 10 games in a row, the Vikings (12-1, 10-0 in SPSL South) have a two-game lead over the Titans (8-4, 7-2) with six games remaining — and now hold the head-to-head tiebreaker by way of their season sweep.
Puyallup’s last divisional title came in 2011, ending a 12-year drought.
Miller (12-0) handcuffed the high-powered Titans, allowing just one unearned run while striking out nine batters in a complete-game effort. She also hit a long, two-run homer in the third inning.
“This is really important, especially because we have young players,” Miller said. “They have never been to the postseason before with a lot of games in one day. If we come out in first (place), we’d get that first bye.”
Honestly, this game was won by Puyallup’s command of the strike zone — by its hitters and with Miller’s pitching.
Scoring its lone run in the first inning, Beamer loaded the bases with two outs in the second. But Miller, who is headed to Pacific Lutheran University next season, got leadoff hitter Analee Scott to ground out to first base to escape the threat.
“We could have opened it up and made something happen,” Beamer coach Brian Hering said, “and we didn’t.”
And over the next few innings, the Vikings’ hitters patiently waited out Beamer pitcher Maddy Rogers, taking her deep into counts. That isn’t the easiest thing to do — Rogers was an all-SPSL South hurler last season.
The highlight of the Vikings’ second inning wasn’t a hit but Brooklyn Bartelson’s well-timed bunt, which forced the surprised Titans’ infield into a hurried play and led to a run — and a 2-1 Puyallup lead.
An inning later, with freshman Natalie Joyner on base, Batinovich was considering calling for another bunt with Miller at bat.
“At Rogers on Monday, I had two push bunts ... so I didn’t care,” Miller said. “But (assistant coach) Chris (Plumb) came over and said, ‘Don’t have her bunt.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ ”
On Rogers’ next pitch, a 2-1 fastball, Miller swung away, and hit a soaring blast over the fence in left center for a 4-1 Vikings lead.
In the fourth inning, Puyallup broke it open with five runs. Junior Bailey Plumb, sophomore Emily Ensrud, Miller and senior Taylor Jellison all had hits, and freshman Kennedy Robillard walked to reach base.
“Our kids show a lot of patience,” Batinovich said. “We ask them to be aggressive and control the count. They are young, but they are kids who ... know how to play the game.”Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com @ManyHatsMilles