The Mead Panthers are going to the State 4A softball tournament for the first time since 1998. The University Titans are going for the ninth consecutive year.
Both earned the trip during the rain-delayed East Regional at Franklin Park on Monday, but they did it in different ways.
And, for the Panthers at least, their wins Monday were Phyrric in nature, thanks to the loss of starting pitcher Kim Watson, who will likely be out for four weeks after breaking the thumb on her pitching hand.
It was Watson (22-1) who was in the circle during the Panthers’ 5-0 first-round win over Kamiakin. And it was Watson who threw all 10 innings of Mead’s 4-3, state-berth-clinching win over Pasco, the final two with the broken thumb.
“I saw her out there crying and that’s not like her, she’s usually pretty stoic,” Mead coach John Barrington said. “I went to take her out and she said ‘I want to go.’ “
The Panthers had broken on top 3-0 in the top of the first, the big blow catcher Megan Foster’s bases-loaded double on the first pitch she saw from Pasco lefty Amanda Antonovich.
“I was looking for a rise ball and she put it there,” Foster said, holding her hand about chest high. “I love high pitches.”
But Antonovich then shut out the Panthers for the next eight innings and the Bulldogs battled back with a single run in the fifth and two more in the bottom of the seventh.
Both innings could have been bigger if not for center fielder Halley Cey. On back-to-back plays in the fifth, she made a diving catch on Andrea Rogers’ sacrifice fly before throwing out Brittney Draney at the plate on Antonovich’s ensuing single.
In the seventh, Cey struck again, cutting down Rogers at the plate on what would have been the game winner with a strike to Foster.
Watson suffered her injury on an unsuccessful bunt attempt in the ninth. The Panthers didn’t score and when Pasco loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the inning, the GSL champs were on the ropes.
But Watson induced two ground balls to Lacey Parry at third sandwiched around a failed squeeze attempt to escape unscathed.
In the 10th, with Katie Bronson running at third after a sacrifice bunt in the international tiebreaker, Tiffany Wilkinson did what she’s done so well this postseason: Beat out a bunt with two strikes, scoring Bronson in the process.
Watson took her broken thumb to the mound and set down Pasco in order to send the Panthers to State.
“It’s too bad because she’s the major reason we are in state,” Barrington said after learning the prognosis. “She should be there pitching and enjoying this experience.”
Without Watson, and using some seldom-utilized players at other positions, the Panthers (22-2-1) were smoked 21-2 in four innings by Richland (23-1) in the regional final.
The same Richland team that hammered University 17-0 to earn a state berth earlier in the day. The Bombers scored seven times in the first inning before coasting behind Stacey Ellingsworth, who won all three games.
The Titans went into a loser-out contest with Kamiakin (12-13) with junior Linse Vlahovich, who emerged Monday as the U-Hi ace. It was Vlahovich who won the opener, 5-4 over Kennewick, with a three-hitter.
The Titans had to rally in that one, scoring twice in the bottom of the seventh to overcome their five errors, Nikki Skaggs’ double scoring Christine Schollenberger with the winner.
“We told her from day one it was important for her to stay focused because we would need her, and she has,” U-Hi coach Jon Schuh said of the junior who split time with senior Molly Owen during the year. “The last couple weeks we spent a little more time working with her and she was willing to spend time on her own tweaking her mechanics, and it paid off.”
Especially against Kamiakin, which she limited to three hits in an 8-1 state-qualifying win. The Titans’ offense exploded for 13 hits, including a two-run home run by Owen and two hits apiece for five others, including Skaggs and Schollenberger.
Lewis and Clark was also playing for a state berth, catching Pasco after the 10-inning loss to Mead. The Tigers (15-11) jumped to a 5-1 lead thanks to two RBIs from Melody Wibisono and a two-run double from Ashley Leimgruber.
But the Bulldogs rallied with five runs in the final three innings to earn the last state spot.
LC had opened with a 5-0 loss to Richland but followed with a 5-4 victory over Kennewick (13-12). The Tigers scored five times in the first and then held off the Lions. Jaimee Marsh had three hits to lead the Tigers attack.
Central Valley (13-11) lost its opener 12-0 to Pasco then saw its season end with a 4-3 loss to Kamiakin in nine innings. Katee Nauert had three hits for the Bears, who twice had girls thrown out at the plate.
The Titans will open the state tournament Friday at 9 a.m. against Skyview, which tied Prairie for the Greater St. Helens League regular-season title.
Mead will face Sumner out of the South Puget Sound League at the same time.