LACEY — After a strong showing at the district tournament, the North Kitsap fastpitch team has qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2006.
The Vikings won games over Lindbergh, White River and Fife to reach the district championship game. Although they lost that match, 6-1, to Port Angeles, North Kitsap took home the No. 2 seed from District 3 and will face East Valley Spokane at noon on May 25 at Carlon Park in Selah in the first round of the 2A state tournament.
North Kitsap has showcased its offensive and defensive talent throughout the season, but it hasn’t always come together at the same time. The district tournament was an opportunity to show opponents that the team could piece it all together, and the players didn’t shy away from that opportunity.
The day started with a convincing 10-1 win over Lindbergh.
Junior pitcher Sarah Smith dazzled with her changeup as she punched out 11 in a masterful complete-game performance. The only Lindbergh run came home on an error in the sixth inning.
“We tried to hold off on throwing [the changeup] for a while just so hitters don’t get used to it,” Smaaladen said. “But once it’s on, it’s on.”
Alicia Goetz set the tone by leading off the postseason and the game with a home run. Teammate Lamara Villiard doubled in a run later that inning to give North Kitsap a 2-0 cushion.
And the defense behind Smith was otherwise sharp. Right fielder Kelsey Johnston spoiled a potential hit by diving forward and going down to the ground to reel the ball in for an out. Even Eagles fans tipped their caps for the spectacular web gem.
“It was a fabulous catch,” Smaaladen said.
Smaaladen picked Genevive “Gen” Keller as the offensive MVP of the game for the way she attacked pitches at the plate. Keller racked up singles in the fifth and sixth inning and then rapped a double in the seventh.
Smith went back to the circle in game two against an excellent White River team that annually does well at the district level — they had made it to state the previous seven years in a row. But on this day, the Hornets were no match for the Vikings as they took an extra-innings, 1-0, decision to clinch a state berth.
North Kitsap scored its only run of the game on a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Goetz led off with a single before freshman Brianna Hoffman moved her over on a sacrifice bunt. A passed ball gave Goetz third base. With one out, all she needed was a fly ball to score the go-ahead run. Iyreland Lawson delivered.
She sent a towering fly ball to the outfield that was more than deep enough to score Goetz. And just like that, the Vikings had the first and only lead of the game.
Meanwhile, Smith struck out four and the defense behind her once again excelled. The highlight was a gem by Goetz, who took a sure double away from White River’s Peyton Wallen in the right-center field gap as she leapt up to snag a line drive to end the game and cue the tears of joy.
Everyone in the dugout emptied onto the turf to celebrate. There was nothing but screams of excitement, joyful cries and smiles all around. It had been 12 years since North Kitsap was last represented in the state softball tournament.
“Oh my gosh,” Smaaladen said following the White River game. “It’s a little bit surreal right now.”
Without the pressure of needing to win, the Vikings were able to relax against Fife and came away with a 9-0 victory. Smith and Mackenzie Wagner combined to pitch the shutout.
The game featured a home run by Lawson that gave North Kitsap a healthy 7-0 lead. Smith and Wagner combined to strike out eight while the defense continued to flash the leather.
— Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap Daily News. Contact him at Jmoore@soundpublishing.com or follow him on Twitter @JMooreKDN.