From the coaches on down to the players, the North Kitsap junior All Stars run at the Washington state tournament was an example of how far will, spirit and determination paired with skill can take a team.
After suffering a 13-3 loss in the opener of the major softball tourney, the North Kitsap squad won four-straight coming up through the losers bracket to make it to the title game before falling to Kirkland.
“Most of these girls had the best attitudes of all the players I’ve coached,” manager Mackenzie Fisher said. “Even the girls who weren’t on my all-star team, but were on my Little League team, they were great too.”
In the first game, North Kitsap fell behind Mukilteo 6-0 before cutting the lead in half. After Ella Bottalico scored on an error, Kiana Delacruz delivered an RBI double, and Tegan Stanford followed with a triple to bring in another run. They were down just 6-3, but Mukilteo scored seven times in the final two innings.
“I was honestly happy that we were there in the first place,” Fisher said. “I told them, ‘As long as you’re playing your bad, I can’t get mad about it.’ ”
Overcoming that loss wouldn’t be easy. They would have to win four games in four days to make it to the final. But resilience was in this team’s DNA and that started with Fisher herself, who was seven months pregnant during the tournament.
”I love the game, what can I say?” Fisher said.
It was a little tough for her to muster up the energy needed to coach, but she was out there every day ready to hit grounders. Fisher said she was also able to lean on her assistant coaches, Matt Fisher and Clay Blackwood.
“When you coach a Little League team or select team, the girls want to be there,” Fisher said. “Seeing the difference in that is what kept me coaching. They were excited to participate and to show up to practice. The motivation they had was different.”
Many of the girls were also affected by the recent death of 14-year-old Kingston resident Giavanni “Gee” Still, who had been classmates with them since kindergarten. North Kitsap shortstop Cadence Robles wrote his initials in the dirt before each at bat in the tournament in his memory.
The NK All Stars regrouped and beat Battle Ground 17-5 the next day. They trailed 5-4 after four innings, but exploded for 13 runs in the final two innings. Stanford tripled home two runs to give North Kitsap the lead in the sixth and Bottalico, Kindness Williams and Reyna Blackwood each picked up multiple hits.
Their next win came against the team from the Northlake, North Bothell, Northshore and Woodinville little leagues, but unlike the previous games, North Kitsap jumped out to a huge lead early and never looked back.
Rachel Cole hit the first of her two triples to help North Kitsap to a 3-1 lead in the first inning. Bottalico delivered a home run to left to extend the lead to 5-1. Stanford’s RBI single brought home another run, and Delacruz’s single to center scored two more.
Stanford later hit her third triple of the tourney to drive in two more, and Olivia Chiquiti finished the game with two hits and four runs scored. North Kitsap won 15-8 and lived to see another day.
Coach Fisher called their 12-1, five-inning win over Whidbey Island their best game of the tournament. Cole allowed just one hit and struck out three, and also went 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Robles hit an RBI double that tied the game at one in the second inning, and Sage Castle’s RBI single gave them the lead. North Kitsap scored four more runs in both the third and fourth innings and tacked on two more in the fifth to eventually invoke the mercy 10-run rule.
With a chance to get to the finals on the line, the North Kitsap offense stayed hot, beating Camas 19-11. Blackwood had four hits and three RBI, Delacruz picked up three hits and drove in four, Bottalico tripled twice and drove home three and Campbell Weible went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. North Kitsap scored in every inning but the last and racked up 17 hits.
The tournament finally came to an end last Thursday with a loss to Kirkland in the championship game, but North Kitsap walked away with a second-place finish and the memory of their incredible run.
“I hope they all come back because it would be awesome to see what they can do next year,” Fisher said.