Lions fastpitch punches ticket to state tournament

After collapsing against Riverside and River Ridge, the Lions battled to get to state.

Making state has been a goal for the Auburn Mountainview Lions their whole careers. The last two seasons, the Lions have been one or two games short of making the state tournament. But this year, they got to the finish line.

“It had been so heartbreaking to be that close … This year we have a really good shot at proving ourselves that we deserve to be at state this year,” junior Brynna Erdmann said.

But their path after May 9 is almost more impressive than the actual feat they achieved.

Rivalries get the juices flowing. Expectations are high, especially at the end of the season, and when you’re playing good ball, you expect to give your rivals a good game. For the Lions,they looked like they were going to give Auburn Riverside a game. The result was much different. A 4-0 first inning lead ended in a 21-6 loss to end their regular season.

“There was so much pressure (against Riverside). Everyone came in wanting to win so bad, including us coaches. We wanted it so bad…The team as a whole, we just choked,” said Lions Head Coach Kristin Herren.

It took a team meeting in a classroom to reset, followed by a couple of days of practice to get their minds right for the district tournament.

“We talked about not being afraid to make mistakes. We can’t get stuck on what happened in the Riverside game. We have to let it go,” Herren said.

“I literally just forgot about it. I couldn’t think about it. I didn’t watch any film or go back and think about it. I just couldn’t,” senior Zoey Murph said.

Auburn Mountainview finished second in the NPSL and were the fifth seed in the district tournament, taking on the 12th-seeded River Ridge Hawks. These two teams met last year in the first round of the losers bracket where the Lions defeated the Hawks, 11-6.

But this season had a different result. The Hawks upset the Lions 10-0. So after having a 10-5 regular season, the Lions lost back-to-back games being outscored 31-6.

“We got in our heads and people got emotional and we were worrying if this was going to be it,” Herren said.

Down in the dumps might not be deep enough for how down the Lions had to have been after two games like that. But they found a way, defeating Spanaway Lake 15-0 and giving their season a lifeline.

On day two of the district tournament, the Lions were met with the number two seed, Bonney Lake. The Panthers were 20-1 with wins over Kentwood, Liberty and Kentridge — high-quality competition. “We went into it, telling the girls one batter at a time, one game at a time, pitch at a time. We have nothing to lose, they have everything to lose,” Herren said.

The Lions went to freshman McKenna Ward, who has been a blessing for the Lions in the circle this season.

“She was a pleasant surprise. We knew we had a pitcher, but didn’t know much about her coming into the season… She is a strike thrower,” Herren said.

She has taken the burden of being the only pitcher off the shoulder of junior Brynna Erdmann and has shined in her first season as a Lion.

Against Bonney Lake, she went five innings, allowed just five hits and three earned runs. Then Addy Thibeault-Miranda slammed the door in the final two innings of the game.

But the story was freshman Kayla Kisling, hitting the go-ahead two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning to beat the Panthers. Kisling had a rough game against Riverside and River Ridge, but showed immense maturity to keep her confidence up in the Lions’ biggest game of the season.

“She right off the bat was making diving plays at second base, turned double plays and hit that home run to win the game,” Herren said.

Ward, Kisling are just a small sample of the youth that the Lions have this season. With just three seniors, there is a lot to look forward to. But the three seniors — Lila McBee, Zoey Murph and Lily McMullen — have proven to be monumental for the success of the Lions.

“They have grown in so many ways and have become fantastic leaders,” Herren said.

“Each senior has their own personality that brings the team closer in a different way and I think that is super important,” Erdmann said.

After beating the Panthers, Auburn Mountainview still had not punched its ticket to the state tournament. It wasn’t a loser-out game, but the Lions were tasked with the Yelm Tornados with a trip to state on the line.

Even though a trip to state was on the line, the reality that their season wasn’t going to be over with a loss, helped relax the Lions and allowed them to just play.

“We all collectively as a team came together and said our goal is state. For us to do that, we have to play as a team,” Erdmann said.

Yelm scored first in the second inning, but Auburn Mountainview responded with two runs in the second and eventually held an 8-3 lead after four innings. The offense scored five of their eight runs with two outs.

“The energy in the dugout helps us out. If our dugout is on fire, then our bats are going … I get a bunch of confidence at the plate when the dugout is yelling. I think it makes all of our attitudes better,” Murph said.

The Lions play Central Kitsap in the opening round before making it to the main draw of the tournament. Winner plays Mt. Spokane and the winner of that makes it in the quarterfinals, where a rematch with Riverside could be in the cards.

“We have to take it one game at a time. Riverside has been in our heads since I was a freshman, they’ve been an issue since I’ve been a freshman. I don’t even know (what to think),” Murph said.

The Lions take on Central Kitsap at 3 p.m. May 23 at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey.

A pair of Lions work off the tee at practice preparing for the state tournament. Ben Ray / The Reporter

A pair of Lions work off the tee at practice preparing for the state tournament. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Lion player warming up for practice before the state tournament. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Lion player warming up for practice before the state tournament. Ben Ray / The Reporter