KENT — Sometimes growing up is the hardest part.
Rachael Barger knows she has a very skilled fastpitch team at Bethel High School. Finding a bit more composure has been the biggest reason the Braves have hit or missed in big games.
But they found that in a big way Saturday at the rain-delayed Class 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament at Service Fields.
First, Bethel shocked SPSL North champion Tahoma, 7-1. And then the Braves stamped their ticket to the state championships for the first time since 1986 when they hammered Gig Harbor, 11-2, in the quarterfinals.
It was a banner day for the SPSL South. Three teams — league champion Puyallup (20-2), divisional runner-up Beamer (19-6) and Bethel (16-9) — advanced to the district semifinals. Joining them is Greater St. Helens 4A powerhouse Camas (18-3).
Because of the likelihood of inclement afternoon weather, tournament officials have moved up the championship bracket games Sunday, with the Beamer-Bethel and Puyallup-Camas semifinals starting at 11:30 a.m., followed by the title game at 2 p.m.
Regardless of what happens to the Braves on Sunday, they know they will play next week. The last time they were in a state tournament, it was slowpitch, not fastpitch.
“We were very young. We lost one senior last year,” said Barger, who is a 1998 graduate of Bethel. “And it more or less came down to them ... really realizing they have every skill they ever needed to be a good, solid fastpitch team.”
Anna Olson put the first game away with a grand slam home run in the seventh inning. She also hit a three-run blast in the first inning against Gig Harbor.
The game of the day featured two league champions battling it out for a spot in the district semifinals — Puyallup and Narrows 4A regular-season champion Olympia.
The Bears grabbed an early lead, but Puyallup eventually got to Olympia ace Maddy Stensby in the third inning — highlighted by Bailey Plumb’s two-run triple.
“I was just looking for that (middle-of-the-plate) ball, and that inning, (Stensby) was either missing pretty hard,” Plumb said. “I piped one back up there.”
Two batters later, Taylor Jellison gave the Vikings the lead for good with an RBI single.
“They earned it,” Olympia coach Matt Loes said. “They had a slap hit, then ripped one off the center-field fence.”
That was enough offense for Marissa Miller, the Vikings’ ace and SPSL South player of the year. Puyallup won, 4-2.
It was an especially gratifying victory for the Vikings, who were eliminated by Olympia, 3-2, in a winner-to-state consolation game at districts last season that ended on a controversial call.
“The returners do (remember) — our pitcher, catcher ... and all the seniors,” Puyallup coach Tony Batinovich said. “I mean, they had a real good game against Olympia last year, and (Bears coach) Matt (Loes) runs a good program. We had to be on our game.”
Puyallup won its opener, 1-0, over Battle Ground on Kylie Perez’s solo home run to straightaway center field in the fifth inning. It was the Vikings only hit of the game.
Olympia reached the quarterfinals by defeating Jefferson, 6-3, in the opening round. Stensby hit a home run and drove in three runs.Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ thenewstribune.com