The challenge might have seemed insurmountable to some, but not the Eastlake fastpitch team.
Facing Spokane’s Shadle Park, a 28-0 team, ranked No. 8 in the country by USA Today, the Wolves pulled off arguably one of the largest upsets in any high school championship in the state this season.
“I don’t think anybody saw us here,” Eastlake head coach George Crowder said. “I don’t think anybody gave us a chance to beat the defending state champs Shadle Park.”
Behind a heroic pitching performance from senior Stephanie Fox and a couple of clutch hits, the Wolves ended the Highlanders’ 35-game winning streak on Saturday, taking the 4A state championship, 4-1, at Tacoma’s SERA Complex. It was Eastlake’s first-ever fastpitch softball championship. The Wolves finished as runners up to Inglemoor in 2004.
“It was our first time at state and we won it all, and it feels absolutely amazing,” said Fox, who pitched a complete seven innings. “It’s like one of the best feelings ever.”
Eastlake earned its victory with a clutch fifth-inning performance. Sam Skillingstad, a University of Oregon recruit, shut the Wolves’ bats down through four innings, retiring 12 straight batters. The right-hander hadn’t given up a run the entire tournament and was coming off a perfect game earlier that morning against Redmond in the semifinals. Eastlake ended the streak of perfection, however, when Sami Collins led the fifth off with a walk. The next batter, Marissa Guches, attempted to bunt Collins to second, but did one better, pushing the bunt past the charging third baseman for a single. After a force out at third, Katie Bunger came through with a clutch hit, blooping an RBI single over third right down the line.
Kimi Pohlman stepped up later in the inning with the bases loaded and two outs, dropping a two-run hit in front of the right fielder.
“It wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world, but it got the job done,” Pohlman said.
Eastlake ended the inning with a 3-0 lead after sending eight batters to the plate.
“That just kind of broke it open, and that’s what we needed,” Bunger said. “We needed to start being disciplined at the plate.”
Eastlake padded its lead in the seventh when pinch runner Lexie Esser stole home on an errant throw from catcher Tressa Predisik to Skillingstad.
Shadle Park, which only mustered four hits off Fox through six innings, finally got to her in the seventh with an RBI double. Fox buckled down, however, retiring the final three batters via a pop up and two groundouts.
“I was trying to make them swing and junk and try and get ahead in the count,” Fox said. “If I was going to miss, I wanted to miss outside or inside. I didn’t want to miss in the middle.”
Fox ended the game, allowing six hits with two strikeouts.
“I think our defense is the best in the state, they make plays,” Crowder said. “We don’t have the kind of pitchers that are going to get a lot of strikeouts, but Stephanie doesn’t have to get a lot of strikeouts because she’s got such a great defense behind her.”
Eastlake, which ended its season with a 26-4 record, started the tournament off with a 4-0 victory over Mountain View of Vancouver. The Wolves narrowly defeated Richland, winning 2-1 in extra innings later that day. Collins drove in Fox with an RBI hit in the bottom of the eighth, scoring her all the way from first. Eastlake defeated Rogers of Puyallup 4-0 Saturday morning to move into the finals. KingCo 4A rival Redmond ended the tournament in third place, beating Rogers 4-0 in the third-fourth place game. League champion Woodinville lost in the first round, 8-4, to Wilson, and was eliminated in the consolation semifinals, 1-0, by Stadium.