Lynden Christian coach Mitch Moorlag and his girls were determined not to let strikeouts beat them in their bid to clinch a return to the Class 1A state softball tournament.
His team, blessed with speed and a raft of tournament-tested athletes, executed 10 bunts under Northwest District title-game pressure Saturday at Janicki Fields.
Along with South Whidbey’s errors on several of the bunts, the result was Lynden Christian’s 6-3 win over junior pitcher Mackenzee Collins, giving the Lyncs (12-10) their first district title in Moorlag’s nine seasons, along with his fifth state berth.
Pitching for the district’s only other state spot, the gritty Collins came back in the ensuing loser-out game with 13 strikeouts to beat Mount Baker 2-1, despite Jordan Miles’ 3 for 3 hitting and Tara Chambers’ outstanding pitching.
LC’s No. 4 and 5 hitters, Ellie VanderVeen and Kiya Levien, were not among Collins’ 11 strikeout victims. They combined to reach base five times on bunts and played vital roles in all five runs for their team’s 5-3 lead after six innings.
Winning pitcher Sam Van Loo, who scattered six hits and acknowledged she received “great defensive help,” executed what was supposed to be a run-scoring sacrifice. But her bunt resulted in a wild, error-marred three-run play in the sixth on which Hollie Scott, VanderVeen and Van Loo all scored.
“I was all in for it,” VanderVeen said when she heard of Moorlag’s plan to bunt, bunt and bunt some more. “I just wanted to put the ball in play” -- and she even beat out two bunt singles.
“I like to bunt, so it was all fine with me,” said Levien. “Coach said speed is one of our greatest assets.”
So is defense. For example, Scott threw out a runner at second base from right field and first baseman Maggie VanderGriend set the tone for LC’s overall effort by snagging a line smash and converting an unassisted double play in the first inning.
It wasn’t until the sixth inning when their Lyncs earned their first hit on an actual swing -- a double by Tori Bajema, who was outstanding at catcher. Scott added an RBI grounder in the seventh.
For one of the team’s three seniors, third baseman Emmalee Bailey, this will be her 10th significant state tournament appearance in three sports.
“I started playing softball on a whim as a sophomore and loved being with the players and coaches,“ she said. “I feel so blessed.”
Mount Baker (14-10), forced to play five games in the unusual six-team, double-elimination tournament structure, saw senior leadoff batter Jordan Miles go 12 for 17 including 6 for 6 against Collins. Senior teammate Tara Chambers allowed only one earned run in 21 innings -- South Whidbey’s fifth-inning run for a 2-0 lead.
Miles’ sister, freshman Tyler Miles, ended this winner-to-state game with a bases-loaded liner directly to the right fielder -- with Jordan on deck -- as the large crowd cheered and groaned loudly.
Baker won its first two games Saturday under loser-out pressure, 8-2 over Cedar Park Christian and 15-5 over Sultan. Sultan earlier eliminated Nooksack Valley 12-11 despite Rachel Sande’s 3 for 5 batting with two doubles and two RBIs for the Pioneers (6-17).
For Baker, Kaylea Sleveland was 4 for 5 with a double nd Kennedy West went 3 for 3 with two doubles and two RBIs against Cedar Park while Erica Brown was 2 for 4 with 3 RBIs. Against Sultan, West and Tyler Miles pitched well and Brown doubled, singled and drove in four runs while West and Jordan Miles had two RBIs each and Grace Davis had two hits.
“I’m really proud of how Tara Chambers pitched,” Baker coach Ron Lepper said. “She really battled hard and give us a chance. I feel good about how well our girls competed in the tournament.”