It almost goes without saying that the star of the Greater Spokane League slowpitch softball championship game was going to be unexpected.
When Central Valley and University squared off at U-Hi Thursday afternoon, three all-league infielders were en route to a showcase fastpitch tournament in California.
“We were missing our regular third baseman and regular shortstop – and they were missing their shortstop,” U-Hi coach Jon Schuh said. “We had to have a couple of girls step up and they did.”
With solid defense from a shuffled lineup and some unlikely offensive contributions, University won its third straight championship with a 7-4 victory over the Bears.
With the left side of their infield gone, five Titans were in different positions, yet the defense committed only two errors.
Brea Warren replaced her sister at third base, center fielder Richal Paxson replaced Warren at pitcher, Cailyn Garcia replaced Paxson in center field and Cara Griffith moved into right. Also, Katelin Lewis came off the bench to play second when Morgan Volker moved to shortstop.
Griffith and Lewis, the newcomers to the lineup, each scored two runs.
Griffith, a first-year player, started just one previous game, but she contributed two hits in three at-bats and fittingly caught a fly ball in right field for the final out.
“I think I’ve been improving all season and had my peak today,” the senior said. “It was good timing.”
The former soccer player opened the U-Hi third with a hit that led to a run, reached on an error and scored in the four-run fourth, and had two-out hit in the sixth to start a two-run rally.
Then there was part-time first baseman Ashley Burns, who hit less than .200 – a near impossibility in slowpitch – and didn’t drive in a run all season.
Batting last in the lineup, Burns had a pair of hits and two RBIs.
“I was just really pumped,” she said. “It was the championship, against CV. The team was vocal and it really pumped me up. Today was the day. I was confident all day.”
CV opened the game with three straight singles, with Alyssa Erickson driving in a run on the third hit, followed by Jamie Belknap’s sacrifice fly. After that, the Bears either couldn’t get a clutch hit, ran themselves out of a potential big inning, or U-Hi came up with a big defensive play. The Bears also helped the Titans with five errors.
Paxson singled in Lewis in the third to cut the deficit in half. In the fourth the Titans had five singles, the last by leadoff hitter Devynne Johnson driving in two runs for a 5-2 lead.
Warren thwarted a rally in the fifth, starting a double play after the Bears put their first two runners on.
“I don’t really play third, but my sister gives me a lot of confidence,” Warren said. “I knew what to do. My sister always tells me to think ahead.”
CV got a run back in the sixth as Nicole Burbridge singled in Belknap, but the Bears left the bases loaded. In the bottom of the inning Sandra Cleveland doubled in Griffith and Burns followed with a RBI single.
Volker’s hustle play in the seventh all but ended any chance CV had of making a comeback. Miranda Marlatt, batting last in the lineup, blasted a triple to right field. She scored on Crystal Holt’s hot grounder that bounced off Volker’s glove and caromed off her forehead into short left field. Volker hustled after the ball and threw out Holt trying to sneak into second base.
“Defense got us out of a couple of jams we got ourselves into,” Schuh said.
Defensive miscues didn’t bother CV coach Joe Staton nearly as much as only coming up with 10 hits.
“We just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it,” he said. “We couldn’t string enough together. We made mistakes, but that isn’t what beat us. I tell the girls everybody makes mistakes – it’s how you bounce back from them. We just couldn’t string the hits together.”