Earlier in the week, West Valley center fielder Brooklyn Robinson pondered aloud.
“I don’t know just how good our league is,” said the senior, tabbed the Great Northern League Most Valuable Player. “I’m looking forward to the (2A) regional tournament to find out.”
The answer, it turns out, is better than expected.
West Valley fell behind 3-2 in the second inning, then rallied to beat GNL rival Cheney for the fifth time this season, 11-3, to claim the regional crown Saturday at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane.
The Eagles enter next weekend’s state tournament at Carlon Park in Selah as the region’s No. 1 seed and will learn their opponent when the tournament’s seeded draw is announced by the WIAA today. Cheney is a No. 2 seed. Central Washington Athletic Conference district champion Selah knocked off rival Ellensburg 8-1 to claim the No. 3 seed while the Bulldogs will be seeded fourth.
“We’ll play a three-, four- or even a five-seed from another region,” West Valley coach Paul Cooley said. “There’s one region that sends five teams, so it’s possible we could play them in a first-round game.”
In claiming the regional championship, Cooley’s Eagles faced their first real challenge since losing their first game of the season – trailing by a run with two out in their final at-bat against Ellensburg.
In the championship game, West Valley needed to emerge from a cloud of confusion with a rejiggered lineup against its toughest league rival.
Behind senior pitcher Kelli Peckham, West Valley took a 1-0 lead in the third inning against Ellensburg, which survived a loser-out game against Clarkston. Robinson ripped a one-out triple off the wall in center field, then scored on a ground out by shortstop Natalie Noble.
But the Bulldogs staged a comeback, taking the lead with two runs in the sixth on a two-out, bases-loaded single by freshman first baseman Hannah Gibson.
Freshman pitcher Karly Malcolm kept West Valley in check for six innings, scattering four hits going into the final inning, and had two outs with the tying run at second with the Eagles’ No. 9 hitter at the plate in junior second baseman Jackie Noble.
“I misplayed a couple balls earlier in the game and in my mind, I knew I had to come through in that situation,” Noble said. “I just tried to relax and I told myself not to swing too early because (Malcolm) had been changing speeds on us.”
Noble jumped on an inside pitch and looped a double down the right-field line that scored the tying run and made her the winning run for Robinson, who did the same thing with an outside pitch – looping a double down the left-field line that hit just inside the chalk and kicked into the fence, away from the hard-charging Ellensburg outfielder to score Noble.
“Crossing that plate and knowing we’d done it – that was the best feeling in the world!” Noble said. “We’ve never been tested like that this season and it was good to find out that we can come back and score when we need to like that.”
Peckham earned the victory, scattering four hits and striking out 11 Bulldogs.
Cheney, which survived a loser-out game with Othello to open the tournament, stymied Selah 8-1 behind Mandy McDowell’s five-hitter. The Blackhawks scored three runs in the fourth inning and four more in the fifth to reach the regional championship game.
In their third game of the day, Cheney scored three runs in the second inning against Robinson, who started the championship game for West Valley.
After the Blackhawks managed three runs on three hits, with the help of two West Valley errors, Cooley came out of his dugout with two outs in the second to make a pitching change.
Home-plate umpire Tom Haydon came out to ask what changes Cooley wanted to make, and the long-time head coach said that Peckham, wearing No. 7 on her jersey, would come off the bench to pitch as a replacement for starting catcher Brenna Francisco.
Haydon pulled out his copy of the Eagles’ lineup card and pointed at Jackie Noble, who wears No. 2.
“I said, ‘No’ and I pointed to the No. 8 hitter, who is just above Jackie,” Cooley said later.
But when Haydon came to the official scorer’s table, and again when he informed the Cheney dugout of the substitution, he reported the change as “seven for two.”
So when Peckham bunted for a base hit to load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the second, Cheney coach Gary Blake came out of his dugout to claim that the Eagles had batted out of order.
After a 20-minute debate in which Haydon sought a decision from someone on what to do, GNL softball coordinator Chris Spring, the announcer for the title game, insisted that Peckham be called out for batting out of turn.
“I just wanted someone to make a decision because I just wanted to pitch,” she said.
Batting again, this time in Noble’s place, Peckham singled home the tying run and her teammates went on score four runs in the second, five more in the fifth.
Peckham allowed just one hit in 5 1/3 innings of relief, striking out 10 Blackhawks.