High School Sports

All about the pitching, right? Puyallup's state title hopes boosted by powerful offense

Puyallup fastpitch players (from left) Destiny Conerly, league MVP Sophia Bjerk, Autumn Murphy, Alyssa Powers, league Most Valuable Pitcher Sidney Booth and Olivia Wood fire up the Vikings during fastpitch practice at Puyallup High School on Tuesday .
Puyallup fastpitch players (from left) Destiny Conerly, league MVP Sophia Bjerk, Autumn Murphy, Alyssa Powers, league Most Valuable Pitcher Sidney Booth and Olivia Wood fire up the Vikings during fastpitch practice at Puyallup High School on Tuesday . toverman@theolympian.com

While close wins in low scoring games are rewarding, Puyallup High School softball coach Tony Batinovich says it has been a lot of fun to watch the Vikings knock 40 home runs over the fence this season.

"I like an offensive game. I'm not a purist, I guess," Batinovich said. "Everybody else says it's all about pitching — I know that it is — but I love to see the offense."

And what an offense Puyallup has.

Batinovich says in his 26 years of coaching softball at the school this is the most explosive offense he's had.

Across four games in last weekend's Class 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament in Kent, the Vikings combined for 46 runs on 60 hits — including 14 home runs — on their way to back-to-back titles.

Puyallup (23-1) recorded 22 hits in its championship-game win over crosstown rival Rogers, earning its fourth title at the district level in the past five seasons.

"I think hitting is contagious," said senior Sophia Bjerk, who will play at the University of San Diego next season. "It's a mindset, and we work really hard at it."

Friday, the Vikings — last year's 4A state runners-up — will take their bats to the Dwight-Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane, and try to chase down the second state title in program history.

Puyallup opens against University (17-7) at 10 a.m., and with a win, could meet District 1 champion Jackson (21-1) in the quarterfinals later in the afternoon.

"We had a really good shot last year, but this is a good year, too, so I’m excited for that," junior ace Sidney Booth said. "The chemistry is a lot tighter. We know how to pump each other up."

Puyallup's only championship came in 2014 under Batinovich. Though, he says this year's squad might be the best he's had — especially at the plate — entering the state playoffs.

The 2014 title team eked its way through the bidistrict playoffs before working its way through four games in Spokane, including a 4-2 championship win over Walla Walla.

The margins have been bigger with this year's group, with an offense that caught fire early.

"We've kind of focused the entire year on getting ahead of teams, and hitting first, and making sure we're up so we don't have to chase runs," Bjerk said.

The Vikings have rarely had to.

Puyallup has pushed across 287 runs this season, averaging about 12 per game, won an undefeated 4A South Puget Sound League title, and barreled through the bidistrict tournament.

"We spend a lot of time on hitting," Batinovich said. "We have a good squad, Nos. 1-9 in the batting order, and we have kids coming in behind them to push them. I think that makes a good program."

Puyallup lost three key players in ace pitcher Kennedy Robillard — who was named the Northwest Conference freshman of the year in her first season at PLU — shortstop Natalie Joiner (Northern Colorado) and catcher Maddy Besaw.

But, the Vikings — whose only loss this season was in a 6-3 nonleague contest against Yelm in March — have adjusted without trouble.

"We made some switches, and it's been pretty seamless," Batinovich said.

Especially at the plate. Puyallup's average margin of victory in its 23 wins this season is nearly 11 runs.

Olivia Ellingson — batting .581 with a team-leading 50 hits and 43 runs scored — leads off.

"She kind of sets the table, and we start rolling in after that," Batinovich said.

Bjerk leads the Vikings with a .600 batting average on 48 hits, including 18 doubles and four home runs. She has scored 42 runs and has 35 RBI.

Booth has knocked in a team-leading 38, while batting .586. The Vikings have eight players hitting .400 or better.

"We really see our pitches, especially in the beginning of the game," Booth said. "Later on, when we know what she's throwing, we jump on our pitch."

An impressive 10 players on Puyallup's roster have hit at least one home run this season, led by junior Autumn Murphy (seven).

With Booth (13-1, 1.63 earned run average) logging most of the innings in the circle, Puyallup has tossed seven shutouts this season, and has a solid supporting cast on defense.

Batinovich said sometimes he and his assistants just sit back and watch their hitters do their thing.

"We have the best seat in the house," he said. "We sit back and watch, and kind of don't get in the way, just let them play and enjoy watching."

Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473, @smithlm12
  Comments