Seldom does Auburn Mountainview find itself trailing early in a fastpitch game.
But Tahoma got the jump Saturday, scoring quickly before riding the arm of Dani Dennis and stout defense to upend the Lions 3-0 to capture the 4A North Puget Sound League title on a damp and chilly evening in Maple Valley.
The Bears (17-5), winners of 16 of their last 17 games, enter this week’s district tournament as the league’s top seed and all the momentum that comes with it. The Lions (20-2), who dominated the league’s Olympic Division, go into the district brackets as the No. 2 seed.
District play begins Friday at the Kent Service Club Ballfields, with the tournament concluding Saturday. The top eight teams advance to state the following week.
“I’m still happy with what these girls have done this season,” said Lions coach Alicia Thompson. “We still have two weeks ahead of us. …. We come out of a very tough league and finishing as the No. 2 seed out of this into district is a really great spot to be in.”
For Tahoma, it was the program’s first outright league title in the last four years.
“We’re super pumped. We are in a winning mode right now,” said Dennis, a junior, who tossed a complete-game, one-hit gem for the Bears at the new park at Tahoma High School. “Our mentality right now is win, win, win. … Now that we know we can beat these good teams, we can go far.”
Dennis went upstairs and downstairs – a riser-curveball combination with good movement and location – to keep the Lions off balanced. She contained the Lions, striking out eight and relying on her defense to overcome her eight walks.
The last time the teams met – two months ago – the Lions scored five runs in the seventh for a 6-3 win. Tahoma played without four players lost to injuries, including Dennis who had a concussion.
This time around, Tahoma came ready.
Each time Auburn Mountainview had baserunners in scoring position, Tahoma responded. Double plays ended Lion threats in the fifth and sixth innings. Taylor Anderson’s diving catch in shallow right field and throw to first base to double off the runner ended the sixth.
“The defense was huge. Every single girl out there impacted that game,” said Tahoma coach Christina Millan.
“I’m so happy I have a good defense,” Dennis said. “Some teams have a good pitcher but not a good defense. We’re blessed to have girls who can make double plays when we need them and girls who can make clutch plays.”
Tahoma used three soft singles off Zoe Collins to push across two runs in the first inning.
After Kaylee Hazelwood’s bloop single to right, Kiera Shipley singled to left, and Anderson’s hit up the middle plated Hazelwood. Claire Phillips’ groundout scored Shipley.
“When we get scored on at the beginning like that it messes with our momentum,” Thompson said. “This is very atypical for us because we usually don’t leave kids on bases like we did. … We didn’t capitalize on the walks and get clutch hits like we usually do.”
Collins went on to deliver a good game, tossing a four-hitter, striking out five without issuing a walk. She also had the team’s lone hit – a single in the third inning. From the second inning on, Collins retired 15 of the last 16 batters
“They were just little bloopers that we’re hard to get to. I wasn’t too worried about,” Collins said of the first inning. “I believe in my team. I knew that we would fight back.”
Auburn Mountainview had its chances but left eight runners on base.
“They had some girls who were out last time (March 22 meeting) and a different pitcher,” said Lions senior shortstop Emily Martinez, a .520 hitter. “I think we can totally get it back next time if we ever play them again.”
Tahoma added a run in the sixth on Shipley’s groundout that scored Hazelwood, who opened the inning with a base hit.
“I’m expecting us to go out and compete each day,” Millan said of her team. “This is great momentum to take into the (district) tournament.”
Dennis worked long and hard Saturday, pitching the Bears to a 7-1 semifinal win over Auburn Riverside earlier in the day.
Despite the loss, the Lions are ready for the next challenge.
“I always want these girls to play hard and finish on top, but there’s nothing wrong with coming in as the No. 2 seed,” Thompson said. “It still puts us in great position for our goal, the longevity. We want to get a (state) trophy.”
Earlier Saturday, Collins threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout as the Lions stopped Kentwood 4-0 in the semifinals. She struck out eight Conquerors.
Emily Bartholomew went 2-for-3, wth a double, and scored a run. Laurel Tauzer drove in two runs for the Lions.