Sometimes one play can define a career. Allie Burger’s came when she was a sophomore center fielder for Shadle Park in the championship of the State 4A softball tournament in Tacoma.
The leadoff hitter from Mountain View hit a high pop fly into no man’s land behind second base – one of those hits that can break a pitcher’s heart.
Racing in from center field, Burger dove headlong and hit the dirt behind the bag. Ball, ground and glove met as one. The batter was out, the Highlanders and Sam Skillingstad breezed to a 2-0 victory.
That was two seasons ago. Burger is in the final weekend or two of her high school career, now playing third base for Shadle. Her goal is a third straight state appearance that would come with two victories this Saturday at the 3A eastern regional at Hanford High in Richland.
The memory of that effort in her first trip to Tacoma remains vivid.
“I remember all season George (Lynn, Shadle’s coach) pushing, pushing, pushing me to get those catches,” Burger said. “It came at the right time. I think I was maybe a hand’s distance away from second base and was smiling as soon as I saw it in the mitt. I thought, ‘How did I do that?’ ”
Burger has affected the game of softball in a number of ways, not only with such defensive gems, but as leadoff batter for the Highlanders, a slap hitter and base stealer who wreaks havoc on opposing teams. As she showed last week when doubling in the tying run during Shadle’s district championship last week, even if she doesn’t get the bunt down she is still dangerous.
Things like that get noticed, a reason why Burger next year will reunite with Skillingstad at the University of Oregon. Burger said the Ducks have small, speedy players like herself and said they liked her because “I’m a little feisty, don’t give up and have a positive attitude.” A Running Start student, she plans to major in sports marketing.
Burger is a three-time All-Greater Spokane League softball player, first as shortstop at East Valley, the last two while playing center field for the Highlanders, before returning to the infield her final season.
“I think normally you need to have your better athletes in the infield,” said Lynn, whose team is trying for a State 3A berth after placing fourth, second twice and first in its last four 4A appearances. “We had a hole at third base and she had to come in and take it.”
Burger played there while living in Othello, Wash., and at age 10 made her first national tournament appearance, on a Babe Ruth World Series qualifier.
The family moved to Spokane Valley when she was in sixth grade and she attended EV schools through her freshman season. The next year she moved to Shadle, her mother Shan Case said, because it was considerably closer to their jobs and for academic reasons. Joining a state-level softball team was an obvious consideration, she said.
It reunited Burger with Lynn for whom she played six years on the Spokane Sliders. He said he added her to his 14U squad when another team she tried out for didn’t take her following a tryout.
“Her skills were not refined and she was pretty weak,” he said. “We turned her around (batting) to the left side and that’s when her game started to climb.”
The 14U team qualified for nationals in Midland, Texas, in 2004. Three of them – Burger, Danielle Lynn (Shadle), Gen Aman (Central Valley) – are in regional play this weekend.
Among other summer experiences have been trips to Kentucky, Florida, Colorado and several to California and Oregon. Those tournaments are where the colleges took notice, said her mother.
“Traveling has definitely been a big part of our family schedule,” she said. “Even if nothing else came out of it, the relationship was developed with her by being there. You can’t replace that.”
Lynn said Burger is the quintessential leadoff hitter.
“She’s our second-fastest player and somebody, when she gets on base, who definitely has a free pass to second.”
Burger considers herself a student of the game.
“As a slapper, you get used to reading defenses and take what they give you,” she said.
Her approach to softball is to work hard at practice and simply enjoy and play on game day.
“I try to stay relaxed, be positive and not too intense,” she said. “When people get stressed and tense, that’s when mistakes happen.”
There have been many happy memories as a member of Shadle’s two state finalists and Spokane’s second State 4A champion in 2007.
“That’s something no one can take away from you,” Burger said. “When we won the championship, it didn’t hit me at first. Looking back on how hard we worked, that was special.”