TACOMA _ Coaches like to say one way to win a softball game is with a bloop and a blast.
The University High Titans belted the blast, but it was a bloop off the bat of Prairie’s Erica Hager that proved decisive Saturday morning. It helped boost the Falcons past U-Hi 4-1, eliminating the Titans from this year’s 4A state tournament at the South End Recreation Area.
This was a rematch of last year’s state title game, one the Titans won 3-0 in and for about five innings this one looked eerily similar.
The blast came courtesy of first baseman Christine Keeton, the University of Connecticut-bound senior. She opened the top of the fourth inning by taking a belt high strike from Prairie’s Brooke Woodward. Two pitches later she got the same pitch once more, and this time she took it out, well out, to left-center field.
The home run gave the Titans (23-6) a 1-0 lead that looked like it might stand up.
That’s because junior Linse Vlahovich was once again keeping an opponent off the scoreboard.
As she did the tourney’s first day, when U-Hi went 2-1 with its only loss 1-0 to runner-up Eastlake, Vlahovich was working out of jams with regularity. But the sixth inning jam proved too sticky.
With two outs and the bases empty, Chris Alley and Emily Robertson lined singles to left, with Alley taking third and Robertson heading to second on the throw. Prairie coach Al Aldridge, who also coaches the Falcons’ girls basketball team, pinch hit lefty Hager.
On a 1-1 pitch, Hager looped a ball down the left-field line that fell just out of the reach of three Titans, and put Prairie up 2-1.
“That’s the one that took the air out of the balloon,” U-Hi coach Jon Schuh said of the dunker to left. “We didn’t recover.”
Prairie tacked on two more runs on two consecutive singles _ one a bunt, the other just off the edge of a glove _ and an error.
Woodward pitched a perfect seventh _ she gave up only two hits and struck out eight against a potent Titan offense that struggled all weekend _ and Prairie ended U-Hi’s 2004 season, turning the tables on last year.
Vlahovich finished with six strikeouts, including a big one in the fourth when Prairie loaded the bases with one out but didn’t score.
Her pitching was just one positive Schuh will take into the summer.
“A lot of people, especially over here, never thought we would be back,” he said during a passing rain shower, typical of the weekend. “Look at today, a lot of those Prairie girls played against us last year and we lost seven seniors. I think we proved last year wasn’t a fluke.
“Linse showed she can throw at this level and that’s important for us. She did a great job all weekend, including today. That inning just got away from us.”
Then he thought about Keeton’s bomb and managed a smile.
“That was something, wasn’t it,” he said. “And it was against the wind.”
But, in the end, it wasn’t enough to overcome a bloop.