Wa-Hi hands Bombers first MCC softball defeat

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WALLA WALLA — Previously undefeated Richland left the softball field at Murr Sports Complex unsullied no more Tuesday after taking on Walla Walla High School, but the Blue Devils didn’t do enough to guarantee themselves a chance at the league title and the No. 1 seed into districts.

Wa-Hi took game one from the Bombers after an uncharacteristically sloppy first inning from Richland allowed the Blue Devils to score four runs on three hits and two errors. Game one starter Ellie Rassbach made that 4-0 lead stand as the Blue Devils went on to pick up a 4-3 victory.

The cleat was on the other foot in the nightcap, however.

Richland’s leadoff batter reached on an error and Wa-Hi starter Kate Ferenz walked the next batter to set the stage for a three-run blast from April Utecht that set Richland up with a 3-0 lead after just one inning. Wa-Hi scored a pair of runs in the fourth, but wasn’t able to crack Richland starter Kayla Andrews and the Bombers went on to secure the 6-2 win.

Rassbach returned to the circle after Utecht’s home run and was solid in her outing, but the Blue Devil defense wasn’t up to the task against the hard-hitting Bombers as Wa-Hi committed six errors in the nightcap.

“Way too many errors,” Wa-Hi coach Kate Keyes said after the doubleheader. “We need to make those routine plays. Maybe you can call it an off night, but I don’t know.”

Perhaps it was nerves.

Richland entered the twin bill at 10-0 in the Mid-Columbia Conference and Wa-Hi at 9-1.

The Blue Devils needed to win both games to overtake the Bombers in the MCC standings, which would have put Wa-Hi in control of its own destiny, needing only to sween Hanford Friday to win the regular-season league title and guarantee itself a trip to regionals.

Instead, Wa-Hi is now 10-2 in league (13-3 overall) and must hope to sweep Hanford and for Richland to, at best, split against Kamiakin Friday. A Bomber split would leave Richland and Walla Walla in a tie for the league title, which would be settled with a one-game tie breaker Tuesday. If Wa-Hi ends up with the league’s second seed, the Blue Devils will have to beat the winner of a Chiawana-Pasco game in a loser-out game on May 11 to move on to regionals.

“Yeah, we were looking at it (the league regular season title),” Keyes said, “but we’re not looking past Friday and those games (against Hanford).

“Just one day at a time and we’ll see where we’re at when it all wraps up,” she said. “These were important games for sure, and it’s tough to split at home.”

After a leadoff fly-out to open game one Tuesday, the Blue Devils got three straight singles to load the bases for Rassbach, who went 2-for-3 at the plate in game one. Rassbach hit a line drive into left field that would have scored at least a run, but Richland outfielder Abby Perryman mishandled the ball and the bases emptied out to give Wa-Hi a three run lead with Rassbach at second. Ferenz hit into an easy grounder at second, but another error, this time on the throw, allowed Ferenz to reach first and Rassbach to score what turned into the winning run.

Wa-Hi had just four baserunners the remainder of the game as Richland’s Paige Goulet shut the Wa-Hi offense down cold. She had two strikeouts to escape the first inning and two more the rest of the game. She issued no walks and eight hits.

“They did much better defensively in the first game,” Keyes said of her team. “But it’s unfortunate to not have them produce any more runs really throughout the rest of the game. We know that Richland is a good hitting team and we were expecting them to put some runs on the board at some point, and we knew that it might go back and forth.”

Richland didn’t get on the board until pinch-runner Kelsea Hinkley rounded for home on a Monika Hebky double in the sixth inning. The Bombers scored two more runs in the seventh when Mattie Smyth’s throw from centerfield to pick off a runner at third sailed into the dugout and Mazie Gilliam and Stephanie Merwin were awarded home plate on the dead ball.

The call to issue the extra bases brought the ire of the home fans, as Merwin went from first to home on what should have been a single.

“That’s a judgment call that you can’t really contest,” Keyes said of the play, “because they (the umpires) have to decide whether or not the runner was at second base when the ball went into the dugout. That’s a call that you can’t contest or argue, and they made that decision and unfortunately we had to go with it. That hurt us, but it is what it is.”

Rassbach fanned a batter and induced an easy groundout to end the inning, however, and Wa-Hi went into the nightcap with hopes for a sweep alive.

It wasn’t to be.

Richland had all the scoring it would need in the nightcap after Utecht’s bomb cleared the centerfield wall and the Bombers added on another run off a Utecht RBI single into left field in the second inning.

Wa-Hi got on the board in the fourth with a leadoff double from catcher Kendsey Hill, whom Rassbach scored with a single into shallow right. Rassbach scored on a Smyth double to pull the Blue Devils within two, 4-2, with an out left in the inning. Carly Clark singled to put runners at the corners for Wa-Hi, but Bomber pitcher Andrews struckout Lauren Likes swinging to extinguish the Blue Devil threat.

Wa-Hi had leadoff batters get on again in both the fifth and sixth innings, but wasn’t able to score again, and two Richland runs in the seventh cemented the loss.

Rassbach ended up with four RBI on the night on three hits and struckout eight batters in 14 innings.

“We talked to Ellie before the (second) game and asked her how she was feeling, if she was still ready to go, and she said yes,” Keyes said of the decision to bring Rassbach in after Utecht’s homer in the nightcap. “And we just decided that we would go with the feel. She was ready to stay in there and take control, and so we decided to go with that. She did an excellent job. She threw a lot of pitches tonight, but she did an excellent job.”

The Blue Devils host Hanford Friday at 4 p.m.

First Game

Richland 000 001 2 — 3 8 2

Wa-Hi 400 000 0 — 4 8 2

Goulet and Utecht. Rassbach and Hill.

Hits — Richland: Merwin 2, Kent, Andrews, Hebky, Perryman, Gillian 2. Wa-Hi: Storm, Aichele, Hill, McDaniels, Rassbach 2, Smyth, Likes.

Second Game

Richland 310 000 2 — 6 11 2

Wa-Hi 000 200 0 — 2 7 6

Andrews and Goulet. Ferenz, Rassbach (1) and Hill.

HR — Richland: Utecht (1).

Hits — Richland: Kent, Utecht 2, Perryman 4, Hebky, Hinkley, Bramlett. Wa-Hi: Storm, Hill, McDaniels, Rassbach, Smyth, Clark 2.

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