POULSBO — It’s the situation in which every coach wishes they could simply send up any hitter they want — a runner in scoring position in extra innings with a chance to win the game with a base hit.
It worked out perfectly for the Vikings on Monday against Olympic. After Samantha Burgh’s one-out double in the bottom of the eight, in stepped senior catcher Lamara Villiard, who delivered in the clutch with an RBI-single to give North Kitsap a 9-8 victory and a two-game lead in the Olympic League standings.
But Villiard, who went 3 for 5 on the day with three RBI, was merely the last in a line of heroes that helped the Vikings overcome two separate deficits in the late innings.
Grace Ibarra, normally a reserve outfielder and pinch runner, was forced into the spotlight in the seventh inning.
Starting pitcher Sarah Smith was lifted after four innings and her two substitutions to keep her bat in the lineup had been used up by the time the game reached the seventh. Ibarra, who had come into the game to play right field after Makayla Stockman moved to the pitching circle, would have to bat in place of Smith, who was 3 for 3 at that point.
Ibarra fell behind in the count and was down to her last strike.
“We all still believed in her, we knew she was going to come through and she did,” Villiard.
With runners on second and third, Ibarra looped a ball just over the third baseman’s head, and by the time Olympic shortstop Molly Gates corralled it, Ibarra was safe at first with a single and Brianna Hoffman had come home with the tying run.
“She had to come in and she just put the ball in play, and that’s what happens,” head coach Jamie Smaaladen said. “We keep telling the girls, put the ball in play and see what happens.”
Stockman was dazzling in the circle, pitching four innings in relief and striking out 11 of the 16 batters she faced. Even after surrendering a solo home run to opposing pitcher Morgan Kroesser in the sixth, she rebounded to strike out the next five hitters in a row.
“She’s super-competitive and really talented,” Smaaladen said. “She’s still learning the game, but she works hard and that’s huge.”
The Vikings had fallen behind 7-4 by the fourth inning, but rallied thanks to an RBI-double by Alicia Goetz, a Villiard RBI-single and another run-scoring single by Iyreland Lawson.
Villiard, Lawson, Smith and Burgh each recorded three hits and Goetz also turned in a multi-hit performance and scored three times.
The Trojans remain in second place in the Olympic League with two losses — both to North Kitsap. They threatened to pull away several times, but ultimately could not fend off the Vikings offense.
Patience and power were the key to breaking through against a pitching staff that had held them to three runs in their previous game. Trojans hitters have otherwise dominated league play, averaging 14 runs per game.
Sadie Chipley’s two-run homer in the third highlighted a four-run inning that gave Olympic a 5-4 lead. Cayla Richmond came through with a two-RBI double in the fourth to extend the lead to 7-4. Richmond finished with two doubles and three RBI.
Olympic also drew eight walks, half of which belonged to Gates, who scored twice on four free passes in five plate appearances.
The win gives North Kitsap a two-game cushion over Olympic and Port Angeles. Those three teams and Sequim, which has three losses, have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and should represent the league in the district tournament.
“In all the years I’ve been coaching at North, this is the tightest race among the top four teams,” Smaaladen said. “It makes them push and we’ll be better at district and state because we’ve had to work so hard during the season.”
The Vikings are now in the driver’s seat for an Olympic League championship. They can sew up the crown with wins at North Mason on April 26 and at home against Port Angeles on April 29.
“Everyone is coming for us, but as long as we stay loose and keep on having fun we’re going to be successful,” Villiard said.
North Kitsap 9, Olympic 8 (eight innings)
Oly 1 0 4 2 0 1 0 0 — 8 7 2
NK 2 2 0 3 0 0 1 1 — 9 16 1
WP: Stockman LP: Kroesser
Olympic — Kroesser 7 IP, 16 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 5 K.
North Kitsap — Smith 4 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 6 BB, 3 K; Stockman 4 IP, 2 H, R, ER, 2 BB, 11 K.
Olympic — Kroesser 2-4, HR, RBI, 2 R; Richmond 2-4, 2 2B, 3 RBI; Chipley 1-5, HR, 2 RBI; Ivie 2-4, 2B, R; Gates 0-1, 4 BB, 2 R.