Stilly junior girls win state tourney opener

KIRKLAND — It took the Stilly Valley junior all-stars a few innings to figure out the North Whidbey softball team, their rivals in the July 18 first-round game of the state tournament.

North Whidbey pitcher Emily Saar’s off-speed throws threw the Stilly Valley girls for almost three complete innings, before right fielder Katelynn Kazen got on base on a bunt with two outs in the top of the third inning.

“It looked like it had some weird spin,” said catcher Brittany Bovard, who struck out the first time against Saar before turning in two RBI base hits in her next two at bats. “Most of us play select ball and we’re used to fast pitches, but we caught on.”

Kazen stole second and third base while leadoff hitter Marisa Rathert was at the plate, setting up the center fielder’s RBI single toward first base.

Rathert stole second but was caught by the Whidbey catcher going for third while third baseman Hayley Fields was still up to bat.

But after getting one good look at Saar, the Stilly Valley girls started rolling. Leading off in the fourth, Fields was hit by a pitch. Kristin Backstrom singled and with the girls in scoring position, Bovard singled to bat in both of her teammates for a 3-0 lead. She would go on to score on pitcher Kayla Mashburn’s single to left field.

The Stilly Valley girls added to their lead in the sixth inning as Hayden Fields got on base and scored on a triple by Bovard. She was batted in again by Mashburn as the Stilly Valley battery led in batting as well, both going 2-for-3.

“After the first time, I could see the spin on it, see where she was putting it,” Bovard explained. “Once we get on, we’re set.”

The Stilly Valley girls backed up their smart hitting and base running with good defense. Mashburn threw a three-hitter through five and 2/3 innings before Hayley Fields came on for the save. North Whidbey scored all of its runs in the sixth inning, getting on with a pair of walks and a fielder’s choice. With two outs but bases loaded, a dropped ball in the outfield scored all three base runners. Fields struck out her first batter to close out the inning.

“Our defense and pitching kept us in the game until our hitting and offense came around. We had some key hitting and key bunts that got us over the top,” said manager Allen Backstrom after the game. “The opposition is only going to get stronger.”

Backstrom’s prediction rang true as the Stilly Valley girls fell 5-4 to Columbia July 19. The girls now face the long path to the state championship, with every game a must-win.

They played Chinook in a loser-out game July 20 after the Times went to press. The winner plays July 23 at 6 p.m. at Kirkland’s Everest Park.

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