Fastpitch: Wolves clinch Narrows League championship

South Kitsap’s Emilly Cunningham slides home ahead of the tag to score on a fielder’s choice. - Jeff Rhodes/Staff Photo
South Kitsap’s Emilly Cunningham slides home ahead of the tag to score on a fielder’s choice.
— image credit: Jeff Rhodes/Staff Photo

It would be difficult to script a better outcome for Kathy Ballew.

South Kitsap’s fastpitch coach not only was able to celebrate her birthday with cake after Tuesday’s regular-season finale, but a 9-1 win against Olympia also clinched the Class 4A Narrows League championship for the Wolves.

That means the Wolves (14-3 overall, 13-1 league) enter Thursday’s league tournament as the No. 1 seed. They play last-place Mount Tahoma in a loser-out game at Tacoma’s South End Recreation Area. South then likely will play the league’s second seed, Stadium, to advance to the Narrows title game Monday.

The Wolves defeated Stadium, 3-2, in that game last season. This year, the teams split their regular-season meetings with both winning on the road.

“I think we’re in a good seat,” Ballew said.

She said the 4A Narrows tournament is particularly important this season because of the strength of the 4A South Puget Sound League. If South clinches the top seed in the Narrows tournament, it would face the 4A SPSL’s No. 9 seed in the first round of the West Central District Tournament. In the second round, the Wolves would play either that league’s fourth- or sixth-place team in the second round if they win their opener.

Teams must win twice at districts to advance to state on May 27-28 at Spokane’s Merkel Sports Complex.

South has not advanced to state since 2003, and Ballew said that even with her team’s success, she won’t take anything for granted.

“We’ve got plenty to worry about,” she said.

It appeared those concerns might extend to the Bears (9-7, 5-7) early as starting Nikki Schroeder allowed just one baserunner in each of the first two innings.

But that changed in the third inning when first baseman Ashley Chamberlin hit a two-out double to center field that scored Meagan Ransier and Alissa Buss.

“It just kind of broke it open and made us relax,” Ballew said.

Olympia posed perhaps its greatest challenge in the fourth when Schroeder hit a one-out double to center field that scored Emma Kelly-Glasoe. But during the ensuing at-bat, Ransier snared a line drive in center field from Gabby Braniff and then picked off Schroeder at second base for an inning-ending double play.

“It was a good shot off the bat,” Ballew said. “(Ransier) has such a great jump on the ball — a great first step. It was a great throw to second base.”

The Wolves extended their lead to 3-1 in the bottom half of the inning when outfielder Erika Henderson eventually scored on a wild pitch after hitting a lead-off double.

South added two more runs in the fifth when Buss started the inning with an infield single and scored during the ensuing at-bat on a triple by pitcher Emilly Cunningham. She then scored on a fielder’s choice by Chamberlin.

The bulk of the Wolves’ offensive production came in the sixth. Cunningham again scored on a fielder’s choice and Chamberlin later followed on a single by Henderson. A misplay by the second baseman on a groundball from pinch-hitter Maile Keanu allowed catcher Ericka Hobson and third baseman Tonya Forster to score.

It marked South’s ninth straight win since consecutive losses April 15-16 against Stadium and Walla Walla.

“We’ve come a long way,” Ballew said. “We’re just getting better and better.

“I couldn’t ask for a better birthday present. I’m very proud of them.”

At South Kitsap 9,
Olympia 1

Olympia 000 100 0 — 1 4 4
South Kitsap 002 124 x — 9 9 0
Nikki Schroeder, Kelsey Randich (4), Mackenzie Loete (6) and Gabby Braniff, Schroeder (4). Emilly Cunningham and Ericka Hobson.
W—Cunningham. L—Schroeder.
Leading hitters—Emma Miller (O) 2-2; Schroeder (O) 2-3 2B RBI; Erika Henderson (SK) 2-3 BB 2B RBI; Meagan Ransier (SK) 3-4 run.

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