An unexpected championship
BATTLE MOUNTAIN – Katlin Willens had the two most important at-bats for the Whittell High softball team on Saturday and came up smelling like a rose both times.
Willens knocked an RBI single to score the only run of an eight-inning thriller against top-seeded Battle Mountain High, sending the Warriors in the state tournament. The senior followed that with a comebacker to the pitcher that resulted in the tying and winning runs of a 6-5 win over Incline High for the Northern 2A regional championship.
The fourth-seeded Warriors beat Hawthorne 5-1 in the first round on Friday, becoming the lowest seed to win the regional championship in at least four years.
“We’re peaking at the perfect time,” Whittell head coach Lindsay Wines said. “We’ve been playing really good ball lately, good defense, and Kaitie Green was just amazing this weekend.”
Green, a junior, pitched every inning for the Warriors and willed the team to the win over Battle Mountain, which had just one league loss this season. Green gave up only two hits to the powerful Longhorns, matching the two-hitter she tossed against Hawthorne on Friday.
“To be honest, I personally didn’t think we were going to win (against Battle Mountain),” Green said. “But we played so hard, and eventually it paid off.”
Whittell had only three hits themselves in regulation against the Longhorns, but Anna Kingman rocketed a one-out double to the fence in the eighth. After a popup by Whitney Gielow, Willens stepped to the plate and slapped a single the other way to right field and Kingman scored easily.
Green allowed a leadoff walk in the bottom of the inning but set down the next three batters, setting off a dogpile in the middle of the diamond.
For a team whose stated goal coming into regionals was to make it past the first round, upsetting the team that put them out of the postseason two years in a row was a longshot. To knock the heavy favorite out of the state tournament while earning themselves a berth there was nearly unimaginable.
“Coming down on the bus, I told my assistant coach that I’d be really happy if we just beat Hawthorne,” Wines said. “I don’t think anyone thought we could be standing here holding this trophy.”
With Green having thrown 15 innings in less than 24 hours, it wasn’t a surprise when Incline put across four runs in the third inning of the regional final. But the Warriors scratched back a run in the fifth and strung together enough hits to tie the score at 4-4 in the sixth, the last coming on a two-out, two-strike single by Sara Piccola.
“I like having pressure on me,” Piccola said. “I wasn’t nervous, because we were already in state. It’s just hitting like always.”
When the Highlanders scored a run in the bottom of the sixth on two Whittell errors, it seemed too much to ask that the exhausted Warriors mount another comeback.
Megan Esquivel had other ideas, smacking a leadoff double to left. Incline chose to give league MVP Anna Kingman a free pass, defying conventional wisdom by putting the winning run on base. A passed ball moved the runners up before Gielow flew out to short left, bringing Willens to the plate in another crucial situation.
With two strikes, Willens grounded the ball back to the pitcher, who threw to first for the out. Esquivel broke for the plate and beat the low throw, which got away just far enough for Kingman to roar around third base and slide into home plate for the go-ahead run.
Again it was up to Green to clinch the win. The Highlanders put runners on second and third with one out, but Green induced a popup that she gloved easily and a grounder to Piccola at third was the last out of a long weekend for the Warriors.
“I told the girls that beating Battle Mountain was the cake,” Wines said. “Beating Incline and winning zone was just the frosting.”
Whittell will open the double-elimination state finals against White Pine, the second seed from the Southern 2A, at noon on Friday at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno, while Incline will face top seed The Meadows High in the following game.