Mental toughness has been a point of emphasis for Rylee Thomas.
That was quickly tested Tuesday. The senior pitcher for the Bethel High softball team surrendered a three-run home run in the first inning against top-seeded Puyallup.
“I’ve just been working on no facial emotions,” Thomas said. “If a girl hits a ball out on me, be able to come back the next inning and strike them all out right there.”
Thomas struck out the next batter to get out of the inning, then struck out the three batters she faced the next inning.
Thomas struck out 10 batters in seven innings, handled two of Puyallup’s best hitters for the final two outs and lifted visiting Bethel to a 7-5 4A South Puget Sound League South victory over the Vikings.
Thomas also had three hits and drove in a run for Bethel (9-5, 6-2 4A SPSL South). And on her 18th birthday, no less.
“Every game should be my birthday,” Thomas exclaimed.
The loss was the first for defending state 4A champ Puyallup (10-4, 7-1) in league play since May of 2014.
Rachael Barger, a 1998 Bethel graduate in her sixth season as the Braves’ softball coach, had never beaten Puyallup before — not even as a player.
“There’s a group of eight (Bethel) seniors over there that if we were going to get a victory against (Puyallup), I wanted it to be today,” Barger said. “Puyallup is such a respectable team to play against that to beat Puyallup — after what they did last year — on their home field? What can’t we do?”
Bethel struck for two runs in the top of the first inning on a double from catcher Brittany Genuardi. But The Vikings responded in the bottom half when Sophia Bjerk sent Thomas’ 0-1 pitch over the wall in center field for a three-run home run.
That’s when Thomas turned up the mental toughness.
Barger said each of her players has a “trigger word” — something that brings them back to Earth and keeps them positive in a tight situation.
Thomas’ is actually three words, but Barger wouldn’t spill it.
“Physically, Rylee is very talented,” Barger said. “It’s just making sure she is mentally strong. I tell my team all the time that they have the skills they need to be good. It’s just taking that mental toughness to the next level.”
Thomas was great the rest of the game, only allowing an RBI double to Bailey Plumb, who then scored on Natalie Joyner’s single.
That tied the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the third inning after Bethel scored three runs in the top half of the inning.
Julie Martell drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the fifth on a fielder’s choice to score Anna Olson. Thomas pushed the lead to 7-5 in the sixth on an RBI single.
Puyallup had scored runs each inning that Emily Ensrud and Plumb, the No. 1 and 2 hitters in the lineup, had come to the plate. Ensrud, who two weeks ago hit .846 with four homers and 13 RBIs to earn the Washington Interscholastic Activites Association’s athlete of the week, and Plumb were both 2 for 3 with a double entering the final inning.
But in the bottom of the seventh, Thomas got Ensrud to line out and scooped a ground ball from Plumb and completed the throw to first base to seal the win.
Puyallup is still a game ahead in first place in the 4A SPSL South with four games to play.
“They just played better than us all the way around,” Puyallup coach Tony Batinovich said. “But we still got a little bit of league left to play and we still control our own destiny so that is all you can really hope for.”