After the Mustang softball team won their first two games of the Class 4A state tournament at Southend Recreation Arena (SERA) in Tacoma last Friday, one phrase that was commonly heard circulating in the Redmond stands was “Cinderella story.”
Indeed, some scouts and coaches may have been quick to dismiss Redmond, which entered the state tournament with a 17-10 record, as having any real chance go deep in the tournament, much less take home a trophy.
But that’s exactly what Redmond did as it captured the third-place trophy, thanks to some dominating pitching and powerful hitting.
The Mustangs became the talk of the tournament after Friday’s play, which included a pair of dominating wins over Jackson, 10-0, and Wilson 10-1. Only two out of the other 16 teams in the field scored half as many runs as Redmond did during the first two games of the tournament.
“We’ve been working on a lot of things and I told my girls just to put all the things together,” said Redmond coach Jackie Bloom. (On Friday), the bats came alive and our defense was tough. I was pleasantly surprised. We always knew it was there but it was nice to have all the hits strung together.”
Unfortunately, the clock struck midnight for the Mustangs in Saturday’s semifinal game against defending-champion Shadle Park of Spokane, a team that was riding a 35-game win streak dating back to last season. Redmond also had the misfortune of opposing one of the most dominating pitchers in state softball history in University of Oregon-bound Sam Skillingstad, who finished her high school career with a record of 97-7.
Skllingstad shut down the potent Mustang offense, pitching a no-hitter while striking out 16 out of the 23 batters she faced as Redmond lost, 6-0.
“We just emphasized for them to come out and do their best, said Bloom. “We knew that (Shadle Park) was a good team. Win or lose we knew that we were going to come out and give our best and that we would be happy with any result.”
After losing to Shadle Park, Redmond was sent to the consolation bracket, where it needed to win two more games to take home the third place trophy. In the consolation semifinal against Kentlake, Redmond beat Kentlake 6-1. The Mustangs broke the game open in the third inning, scoring five runs on three hits, one of which happened to be controversial.
With runners on second and third, No. 3-hitting left fielder Maria Reisinger sent a long fly ball to deep center field, which looked as if it would be the first home run of the year for Redmond. Kentlake’s center fielder gave chase and collided with the temporary chain-link fence used as the outfield wall, knocking it over as the ball left the field.
Although it appeared that the ball never touched the fence, play was delayed for almost five minutes as the umpires discussed the play with coaches, and Reisinger was eventually awarded a ground-rule double instead of the home run.
Reisinger’s efforts included multiple run-saving running catches. In addition, she was a hitting machine on Friday going 6-for-8, including two doubles, four runs scored and four RBIs.
“Reisinger has done a heck of a job and she’s just really played her heart out,” said Bloom. “Defensively with great catches and offensively she came up with some great hits. Maria has really come through for us in the playoffs.”
REMATCH WITH WILSON
Going into the consolation finals to determine third and fourth place, confidence was definitely on the Mustangs’ side as they had beaten Wilson handily earlier in the tournament 10-1, but the fact that the local favorite from Tacoma won three straight games since the rout to earn the right to play Redmond again showed that they meant business.
The Mustangs were locked in a classic pitcher’s duel as the teams battled to a 0-0 tie through the first five innings, until the bats finally came alive in the decisive sixth.
Sophomore shortstop Jenny Eisenmann sparked the offense with a one-out single to center. Back-to-back errors by the Wilson defense and a Reisinger walk loaded the bases for junior cleanup hitter Emily Squires, who uncorked a three-run, bases-clearing double to left field.
“That big hit this game and the line drive down third base yesterday [against Wilson], she’s just been clutch,” said Bloom of Squires’ timely hitting.
But perhaps no player wearing a Redmond uniform was more influential to the team’s success than junior pitcher Erika Hendron, who was forced to assume the role of “staff ace” after senior Jessica Rakonza suffered a stress fracture in her arm earlier in the season.
Hendron is the definition of a workhorse on the mound, having thrown every pitch for the Mustangs the entire postseason. She dominated hitters throughout the tournament, averaging nine strikeouts in each of her four wins, and with the exception of the Shadle Park game, only allowed one earned run.
“It was a challenge,” said Hendron of adjusting to her new position as the starting pitcher. “I knew I could do it and we had the confidence. It was a lot of pressure, a lot to be put on, but we fought through it, I think we did really well.”
“She has just thrown her heart out,” added Bloom. “Erika is an amazing pitcher, and she’s a junior so she’s coming back next year. She’s an asset on any team and Redmond’s very privileged to have her here with us.
A DREAM SEASON
From the Mustang’s arduous path to making their first appearance at state since the transition to fastpitch in 1993 to being only two games away from holding the championship trophy, the season was a surreal one for the fans, players and everyone involved.
When asked her favorite memory from the season, Hendron answered, “Just how much the team bonded. It was all like a dream. … Going to Vancouver, beating Juanita in the last inning. … We’ve always been so close and it’s was awesome to finally pull through.”
The fact that Redmond is only graduating two seniors, Rakonza and catcher Justine Bakker, makes the Mustangs’ outlook for next season especially rosy.
“We’re looking really good. … Definitely a team to watch next season,” said Bloom.
Nothing, however, can replace the sense of satisfaction that the team felt hoisting the third-place trophy after coming so close on numerous occasions, including the infamous 16-0 season from 2006 where they fell one game shy of the state tournament.
“It’s just wonderful. … To be here as one of the top 16 teams in the state, then top eight, and now to finish third in state – it’s just awesome,” said Bloom. “It’s a great feeling, the girls played their heart out. We peaked at the right time and played some good softball. I couldn’t be happier with my girls for everything they’ve done.”