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.”