A long, grueling day in Hillsboro ended with five victories for Crossfire-Atkins. The Idaho natives knocked down every opponent it faced on Sunday at the 2019 Valley Invite, including the final bout against the NW Bullets to claim the Division I title, 6-3.
“That’s the best we’ve thrown all year,” said head coach David Dwyer. “All three girls were fantastic all weekend long. The girls played good team ball throughout the tournament. I’m not saying it wasn’t unexpected but this was nice to have happen for the kids.”
Tired bats, not tired arms ruled the opening innings. Through three innings, Crossfire recorded just a single hit and managed zero runners in scoring position.
Likewise, the Bullets didn't record their first hit until the bottom of the fourth.
With the Bullets putting up a wall defensively, Crossfire’s Jaylynn Stinson promised to be up to the task to keep the NW’s offense at bay.
“I had a nice combination between my drop ball and my changeup,” said Stinson. “I wasn’t trying to overpower anyone because I knew I had a great defense behind me.”
In seven innings of work, Stinson did tally five strikeouts but it was the stellar play behind her that highlighted the bottom half of each inning in Hillsboro. Particularly, shortstop Kaylan Walker whose gold glove snagged six assists and a putout.
“Sometimes it’s all about trust,” explained Stinson. “I know they have my back whenever I pitch and today was no different.”
Crossfire failed to add a hit to its total in the fourth inning but would manage to push across two runs. A walk and a hit-by-pitch ignited the inning. An error from the catcher trying to throughout Kaylan Walker’s steal attempt resulted in the game’s first run. Two batters later, Hattie Hruza’s sacrifice fly lifted Crossfire to a 2-0 advantage.
“We just started to put the ball in play,” said Dwyer. “The Bullets’ pitchers did a great job of limiting us and we weren’t hitting the ball that hard. We just put it in play and put a little pressure on their defense.”
Two innings later, Crossfire again put balls in play, forcing a pair of errors in the top of seventh leading to a 6-0 cushion.
Even though the Bullets would rally for three runs in the bottom end of the frame, Crossfire found its three outs to take the Division I Upper Gold Championship, 6-3.
“We did way better this year than we did last year,” said Stinson. “I’m happy for my teammate. I’m happy to see them happy.”
With an early-summer win its pocket, the long drive back to Boise might not seem so tiresome.
“This means everything to these parents and players,” Dwyer said. “Idaho usually doesn’t get a lot of love wherever we go. It’s a huge win for the team and for our young organization.”
The Lady Bulldogs made a habit out of playing in close games throughout pool play at the 2019 Valley Invite. After sidestepping the Oregon City Nightmare, 5-2, the Bulldogs tallied two consecutive 3-2 victories over the Washington Angels 16u – Benson and CC Krush Gold to earn top honors in Division I’s Pool K.
“We’re facing good pitchers,” said head coach Pat Pace. “Games should be close but we’re a team that usually scores a lot of runs. Overall, the girls did what they were supposed to do. To finish pool play 3-0 is a pretty good start to a tournament like this.”
CC Krush struck first blood with three quick hits to start the contest, scoring one run. Even with the fast start, six hitters would be the most starting pitcher Chloe Leverington would face.
“Once the Krush took the lead, I tried to just let my defense work behind me,” said Leverington. “I knew they would have my back in the field and at the plate if I just let them do their jobs.”
For four innings, Leverington and the Bulldog defense began to buckle down. Only once did a runner reach scoring position in the fourth frame before a lineout to second base and a groundout to shortstop erased the threat.
“My fastball was working really well,” Leverington explained. “I think I was able to beat most of their batters with my speed, wearing them down and making them foul off a lot of pitches.”
The young righthander’s only mistake came in the top of the sixth inning, surrendering a lead-off home run, handing CC Krush a 2-0 advantage.
Despite the deficit and a short timeframe to make it up, the Lady Bulldogs never felt desperate.
“Our intensity never dropped,” said Kaitlyn Granstrom. “We’re always better the second time through the lineup. We kept making adjustments and I think we started to figure some things out.”
Slowly but surely, the Lady Bulldogs began to apply the pressure on CC Krush, putting runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings before breaking the drought in the sixth with Lindsay Pace's RBI single.
“We got a couple of hits late and forced their starting pitcher to come back into the game,” said coach Pace. “I think that was key for the girls to see that pitcher again and have some success.”
What started with a double from Brittany Patrick, turned into a sixth inning offensive explosion for the Bulldogs. Behind Pace’s effort, Kali Rambo notched an RBI double to tie the game at two, giving Granstrom a chance to walk it off with the time limit already exceeded.
“I knew I just had to put it in play,” said Granstrom. “The only hit I had was when I laid down a bunt but I knew that any contact would probably score a run.”
While not technically a hit, Granstrom’s fielder’s choice scored Matti Ekerson, vaulting the Lady Bulldogs to first place in Pool K with another 3-2 victory.
“This win says a lot,” coach Pace explained. “It’s expected that we’re not going to give up in any situation but that was a great win. I think it was a confidence booster for tomorrow and hopefully, the rest of the season that no matter the situation we know we can come back.”
The Lady Bulldogs will enjoy a bit of rest before bracket play begins on Saturday morning. With three hard-fought victories behind them, confidence will not be lacking for the Washington natives.
“We all just want to win,” said Leverington. “For us, it’s just about making it to the next game however we can make that happen.”
Competitive games highlighted Division I’s Pool C at the 2019 Valley Invite. Three games ended in a tie and only two teams walked away with a victory.
For the Washington Angels 18 Gold – Benson, a win and two consecutive ties were just good enough, sealing the top seed out of the cutthroat pool with a 3-3 effort over USA Explosion 16 Gold – Thompson.
“Our pitching core is very deep,” explained head coach Dennis Hiner. “They continued to hit their spots and control the game from start to finish.
“They’ve played together as a team all weekend long. They’re energized in the dugout and they’re supporting each other in every situation. At this point in the season, they are way ahead of where they were last year.”
The Angels jumped on the board early in the first inning. Cienna Gunter and Bailey Warren tallied back-to-back singles to put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of USA Explosion. Gunter scored on an error from the third basemen and a batter later, Taryn Barney’s double pushed Warren across to make it 2-0.
“It was a change-up on the inside,” said Barney. “I saw the pitch just sitting there, and I told myself to just hit it hard.”
USA wasn’t going to down without a fight, though. McKenna Crum’s lead-off double sparked an immediate comeback for the Explosion. Despite two consecutive strikeouts from Annie Polster, Emma Andrewjeski, Jocelyn Eisen and Kaycie Barber each reached safely, plating three runs and capturing the lead, 3-2.
“We’re never down on ourselves,” Barney said. “We’re always cheering in the dugout and keeping each other up. If we keep each other’s spirits up, we’re more likely to have a better game.”
Washington’s positivity paid dividends in the next half inning. With two outs and a runner on second, Lynsie Miracle’s clutch single evened the score at three.
“Our bats always seem to come alive when we need it,” said Hiner. “We faced a really good pitcher today and we were fortunate to strike when we did.”
Just when it looked like the contest was going to volleyball back and forth, both pitchers found their respective rhythms, turning the latter half of the ballgame from an entertaining offensive battle into a thrilling pitching duel.
Polster retired the side in order in the third inning and then gave way to Bailey Rose in the fourth.
“I felt loose all morning,” Rose explained. “When I got into the circle, I never thought I’d throw a ball. I knew my team behind me had my back and I all I needed to do was continue to throw strikes.”
Rose’s performance included three strikeouts in just two innings while only allowing a single hit. Gina Skinner matched Polster and Rose pitch for pitch, keeping the Angels off the bases and more importantly, off the scoreboard.
Time ran out in the sixth inning with the game tied at three. While a tie is never the preferred outcome, there were plenty of positives for Hiner and company.
“Our defense has been fantastic,” Hiner said. “I don’t think we’ve committed many errors and that’s key when you play as many competitive games in this tournament as we do.”
The Angels will await its first bracket play opponent as the rest of pool play finishes up later Saturday afternoon. No matter who they’ll face, Washington is poised to make a deep run in one of their favorite tournaments of the Summer.
“We’ve been coming to this tournament as an organization for a long time,” said Hiner. “We’ve developed some great relationships with colleges. Combined with the competitive games we know we’re going to get by coming here, I’ll take this type of atmosphere all day long.”