Five up, five down and a championship.
Kirkland’s majors softball all-stars knocked off Flagstaff, Arizona, 4-1, to complete an undefeated run and notch the Western Regional crown on July 26 at Houghton Field in San Bernardino, California.
The locals qualified for the World Series on Aug. 8-15 in Portland, Oregon.
Pitcher Christina Minor retired her only nine batters in a row and finished off Arizona with a strikeout in the top of the sixth inning. She jumped up and down on the mound and was joined by her ecstatic teammates for a group hug on the ESPN+-streamed game.
“It was a battle, it was a fight, we knew it was gonna be tough, but we had a good inning,” said Kirkland manager Chris Cook to the ESPN+ announcers.
Down 1-0, Kirkland finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth inning with three hits to go up, 2-1. Minor singled and moved to third on a passed ball and a wild pitch. After two Kirkland batters struck out, Kya Aldrich nailed an RBI triple down the left field line on a 3-0 pitch. Hailey Story then unleashed an RBI single up the middle. It was Kirkland’s first hits of the game.
“Every 3-0 pitch she’s had this whole tournament, I gave her the green light — she’s that good a hitter. I just love that it was fair,” Cook said with a laugh.
Aldrich was itching to deliver a key hit, and she came through in the clutch.
“Almost every single time in California, I got walked or got hit, it was really frustrating. I wanted to hit really bad. It felt really good — usually you just need one hit to start a rally, and that’s what we did,” said Aldrich before a team practice on Monday at Lake Washington High.
One of the keys to victory was an inspirational talk from coach Molly Ely in the dugout when the locals trailed 1-0.
“She told us that we’re not a team that gives up, and we cheered really loud and it was exciting,” Aldrich said.
Kirkland tacked on two more runs in the fifth on RBI singles from Minor and Kaidence Caiola. Kirkland benefited from a sac bunt from Erin McKeag and aggressive baserunning from Minor, who scored Emma Pascal with her hit.
“Hitting is contagious, I guess. After that hit (Aldrich’s), it was just a lot of good stuff,” Minor said on Monday.
Flagstaff tallied first in the top of the fourth inning on a double, single and an error. With no outs after the run, Minor replaced Aldrich on the mound. With a runner on third and no outs, Minor got a popout, strikeout and groundout to end the threat.
DUO NOTCHES NO-HITTER
Kirkland defeated Oregon for the second time, 10-0, in the semifinals on July 26.
In the four-inning, run-rule game, Aldrich and Minor combined for a no-hitter. Aldrich pitched the first three innings and Minor closed it out. Aldrich fanned three batters and Minor struck out one.
Aldrich said it’s vital to mix things up on the mound with her as a power pitcher and Minor relying on spin balls.
“I actually was confident, I don’t know why. I think it was just like in that moment, I wasn’t really nervous,” Minor said of being in the pitching spotlight at regionals.
Kirkland scored two runs in the first inning, three in the second and five in the third.
Hot with the bats for the locals were Aldrich and Caiola with a double and two RBIs each; Mary Madaline Roe with a triple and an RBI; Minor had a single, an RBI and scored two runs; and Story had a single and two RBIs. Bella Ely scored two runs.
Earlier in the tourney, the state champs knocked off Oregon, 11-1, Alaska, 15-1, and Montana, 21-0.
Aldrich is thrilled to be moving on to the World Series.
“It’s been great. It’s the best experience of my life,” she said of the team’s success.
Minor said that it’s all about a group of girls who’ve known each other for a long time and are doing some cool things this summer.
The squad has a funding page at: https://www.gofundme.com/help-kirkland-softball-to-regionals