Saturday was Mountain View High School’s day at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey.
Without so much as changing dugouts, the Thunder from Vancouver brushed aside two of the best teams the South Sound has to offer, scoring a wire-to-wire 7-1 rout of defending Class 3A champion Bonney Lake in the semi-finals before breaking away from Stadium with a four-run fifth inning to win the West Central/Southwest Bi-District championship game, 6-2.
Which only bothered first-year Stadium coach Ed Wells a little bit. Back in February, competing at state as the second seed from bi-districts was the last thing on his mind: On the first day of practice only seven players turned out for the team,
“The next day we talked enough girls into coming out and we’ve really pulled it together since then. We did the things we needed to do,” Wells said. “They’ve really bought into what the coaches are talking about.”
Once the Tigers (20-3) were assured of having a live body at every position, another symptom of a rebuilding program became obvious. Stadium was young. Three seniors started Saturday’s games, but of the 14 players listed on the playoff roster, five are freshmen and three are sophomores.
“A lot of those freshmen haven’t played a lot of softball, either. We’ve gotten some good leadership from a lot of good ballplayers,” Wells said, pointing to shortstop Mikayla Liljenberg, pitching ace McKenna Braegelmann and catcher Meri McElligott. “We’ve also got a really good senior class with Sam (Coach) and Kate (Nelson).”
Things started well for Stadium, which previously lost only to Bonney Lake, in the district title game.
Liljenberg and Braegelmann led off the game with back to back walks off Thunder starter Hailey Paull. Rylie Jutte, one of those freshmen, moved the runners over with a timely ground ball to the right side before Liljenberg scored on a wild pitch.
In the third, the Tigers extended their lead to 2-0 when Bragelmann blasted a one-out double off the base of the wall in the left field corner. Jutte moved her to third with a soft lined single to right and Braegelmann scored an unearned run an out later on an error by Thunder third baseman Sydney Brown.
Mountain View tied the game in the bottom of the inning when Maelyn Ocampo lined a two-run homer over the right field fence. The four-spot in the fifth created a daunting task for the Tigers.
Meanwhile, Brown, Mountain View’s pitching ace, shifted to the circle from third base and limited Stadium to two hits the rest of the way, a sixth-inning double by McElligott and a seventh-inning single by Braegelmann. Bothered by the plate umpire’s interpretation of the illegal pitch rule, she walked four but also struck out three.
“We lost to a really good team, we have nothing to hang our heads about,” Wells said. “It shows our ladies they can play with anybody. Garfield won the Sea-King district and we beat them (4-0 earlier in May).”
In the semi-final, played immediately before the championship game, Stadium snapped a 1-1 tie in the top of the seventh to move on.
Braegelmann, Jutte and Coach walked in succession off Tornado pitcher Tayelyn Cutler to load the bases with nobody out. Sophomore slapper Alexys Newman blooped a double over third to score both Braeglemann and Jutte.
The Tornados went out in order in the bottom of the inning and Stadium had a 3-1 win and a spot in the finals. Yelm had scored its only run in the sixth on back-to-back doubles by Taylor Gubser and Hailey Brown but couldn’t turn the rally into a crooked number.
Bonney Lake (20-3) bounced back to shut out Yelm, 5-0, in the third place game. The Panthers and Tornados (18-5) will join Stadium at next week’s state tournament at the RAC.