Sports

Wolves take the long way to state tourney

Despite having to do it the hard way, a determined South Kitsap High School fastpitch team over the weekend earned a trip to the 4A state tournament, which begins Friday at 1 p.m. at the SERA Complex in Tacoma.

SK opens the state tournament against Lake Stevens, the No. 1 seed from District 2. Lake Stevens is led by sophomore pitcher Krista Crosson, who boasts a gaudy 17-2 record.

Crosson is also backed up by one of the better infields in the state. Lake Stevens is also playing inspiring ball this year because its coach Margo Leiter is retiring after the season.

Lake Stevens has placed second at state the last two years.

The Wolves, who have only two starting seniors, withstood an ordeal of five games in 24 hours at Spanaway’s Sprinker Complex to escape with the seventh and final state berth out of the West Central District tournament.

SK survived three loser-out games in the process.

After opening the tournament with a 3-1 loss to Sumner, SK bounced back with a tough 6-1 win against Gig Harbor to continue its hopes of getting through the backdoor of the bracket.

Facing its second consecutive loser-out game, the Wolves didn’t disappoint, bashing Thomas Jefferson pitcher Amanda Herrera with a 16-hit onslaught in an 8-0 victory.

SK had a chance to wrap up a state berth against Wilson, it’s next opponent, but the Rams played flawless defense around star pitcher Ashley Nelson to win 9-2.

SK senior Melissa Ballard said most of the girls thought their season had ended after the defeat.

“Everyone’s heads were down,” Ballard said. “Everyone though we were finished. But coach (Kathy Ballew) said we had one more chance. We made sure we took advantage of the opportunity.”

Facing Kentlake in its third elimination game, SK’s Cathy Kniess manufactured the only run the team needed in its 1-0 win.

After leading off with a bloop single, Kniess stole second base and advanced to third base when Stephanie Solarek struck out.

Savannah Starkweather stepped to the plate and hit a grounder to shortstop Shaudin Warren, who made a nice throw to catcher Janelle Malama. But Kniess scored when Malama was unable to hold onto the ball.

Kentlake outhit SK 10-3 but SK sophomore pitcher Brittany Miller continually pitched out of jams. Miller earned two victories in the tournament and fellow sophomore Amanda Galla earned the win against the Tides.

Ballew said Miller is no longer a sophomore.

“I think she’s a junior now after all the experience she’s gained this year,” she said. “She’s just amazing. She’s a battler.”

Kniess and Ballard, the lone everyday players on this year’s squad, said much of the team’s success has to go to the underclassmen.

“The seniors were worried the sophomores wouldn’t understand how important it was for us in our last year to make it to state,” Kniess said. “It’s exciting that the sophomores have stepped up and done their part. They’ve done more than we expected.”

Ballard said having a taste of state last year made her even more hungry to get back this year.

“After last year we were like ‘OK, we’re going back no matter what,’ ” she said. “We didn’t care what seed we’re going in as. We just want to get there and win.”

Ballew said the only way she could explain her team’s fortitude was the character that showed within each player.

“They showed a lot of heart out there,” Ballew said. “That’s how we’ve been all year though. We’ve had to do things the hard way but we’ve survived.”

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