EVERETT - Ferndale's offense met its match in Glacier Peak senior pitcher Callie Bircher.
Likewise, the Grizzlies had their hands full with Golden Eagles starter Lauren Maley, who had breezed through her first two 3A Northwest District games by only allowing three runs total.
At the end, though, it was Bircher who came up with the key pitches in the most important moments, lifting Glacier Peak to a 3-2 win over Ferndale in the Class 3A Northwest District Tournament championship game on Thursday, May 22, at Phil Johnson Fields in Everett.
Bircher allowed just the two runs after scattering seven Ferndale hits in seven innings of work. Maley struck out eight while giving up seven hits and one walk in a gutsy performance that kept the Golden Eagles within striking distance the entire game.
"She had a great changeup that kept us a little off balance," said Ferndale coach Holly Hilton of Bircher. "We struggled with the strike zone a little bit, but you know, bottom of the line, we have to be ready to hit. ... This was probably the fastest pitching we've faced, and the toughest hitting team we've faced, so it was good."
Hilton and the Golden Eagles didn't sulk over the loss. They had already done the work necessary to earn the program's first-ever 3A state tournament berth after defeating Mountlake Terrace and Stanwood in their first two games, with the district championship just serving as a possible cherry on top. It didn't come, but the chance to fight through a tough contest such as the game against the Grizzlies was a welcome sight for Hilton and Maley.
"We're pretty excited because I don't think we've ever been to state before, so this is a pretty big deal for us," Maley said. "This game, it was a great game. It's not getting us down, and we're ready to come back and kick some butt at state."
Glacier Peak jumped on the junior starter early when leadoff hitter Nina Kim hit a double to dead center field to start the game. After a sacrifice bunt moved her over to third, Bircher scored her after lofting a high fly ball to right field that gave Kim enough time to tag up and score the game's first run.
Kim would get to Maley again to leadoff the third when she hit a double into the right-centerfield gap. Bircher again would plate Kim for her second RBI of the game when she laced a single between first and second to score the speedy leadoff.
Ferndale was able to finally answer back in the top of the third when Dana Ebe lined a triple over the right fielders head. Drew Westford, who got on after a lining single, was thrown out at home after a quick relay from Glacier Peak beat her. That run would prove costly given the one-run loss, but Ebe would later score to cut the Grizzlies' lead to 2-1 off a single by Scarlett Nyenhuis.
"We just had to get used to it at the beginning, and we started catching on at the end," said Maley of adjusting to the pace of Bircher's pitching.
Glacier Peak added its final run in the top of the fourth after Rebecca Willis reached on an error. Willis would then make her way to second following a wild pitch, to third on a passed ball and finally scoring on a throwing error.
Four of the Golden Eagles' five errors came over the span of two hitters, eventually leading to what proved to be the game-winning run in Willis scoring.
Still, Ferndale wasn't without its chances to even the game, none being more threatening than in the bottom of the sixth.
Abigail Bauthues led off with her second double of the game, moving over to third when Bircher tossed a wild pitch striking out Maley, who would reach first after Glacier Peak's catcher couldn't corral the loose ball. Savanna Shawler would then drive in Bauthues on a line-drive single into left, and another single by Collette Brown would give Ferndale the bases loaded with just one out. Then came Bircher's defining moment, striking out Erika Ebe swinging and inducing Westford into a soft grounder to second to end the inning.
"We were hitting the ball. We just came up a little bit short this time," Hilton said.
Nothing came of Ferndale's final inning at the plate, with Glacier Peak taking the district title. The Golden Eagles kept things in perspective, though, Hilton and Maley said, with state being their only focus now.
"We fought and we fought hard," Maley said. "Our coach always says, 'Every day you can get 10 percent better.' And that's what we believe."
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
GLACIER PEAK 3, FERNDALE 2
Glacier Peak 101 100 0 - 3 7 2
Ferndale 001 001 0 - 2 7 5
WP - Callie Bircher; L- Lauren Maley; Highlights: Ferndale: Abigail Bauthues 2-4 2 2B R, Dana Ebe 1-3 3B R, Sydney Shawler 1-3 RBI, Lauren Maley 1-3 2B.
Ferndale's RBI hit in the sixth inning was corrected on May 23.