LACEY — Throughout this season the Snohomish High School softball team found a way to overcome every obstacle that stood in its path.
But at the end there was one riddle the Panthers couldn’t solve: Alli Kimball.
The Peninsula star senior tossed a three-hitter in the circle and belted the decisive three-run home run at the plate, and Snohomish had to settle for a second-place trophy as the Panthers fell to the Seahawks 4-1 in the Class 3A state championship game Saturday afternoon at the Regional Athletic Complex.
“It hurts, but us nine seniors, we’d been planning since day one of tryouts that we’re going to the state championship,” Snohomish ace pitcher Skyla Bristol said. “Honestly, we’re happy with what came out of it. But it does sting a little.”
Second-seeded Snohomish came oh so close to capturing the second softball state title in school history, beating Walla Walla 7-3 Saturday morning to reach the championship game, then carrying a 1-1 pitchers duel between Kimball and Bristol into the sixth inning of the title contest.
However, a pair of defensive plays that just eluded the Panthers were punished by Kimball the batter, and that was more than enough for Kimball the pitcher, who retired the final six Snohomish batters in order. Appropriately, it was Kimball who recorded the final out, snagging Bridget Johnson’s liner back to the circle before tossing the ball and her glove high into the air in celebration.
“She’s got a lot of command to her pitches,” Snohomish coach Patti Lande said about Kimball, who was the only pitcher able to keep the Panther bats quiet in the tournament. “Her location is good, she’s got a really great riseball, also a changeup, and she has really good speed. Add all those together and you have to be right on top of your A game. We hit the ball hard, so many times we hit the ball hard right to their people. So the luck just wasn’t on our side this time.”
Kimball, who worked at a lightning pace, finished with seven strikeouts and walked just one for the top-seeded Seahawks (26-2). The only damage the Panthers (23-4) could muster was Avery Clark’s RBI double in the fourth that tied it at 1-1.
“I got in about 15 minutes of scouting (the Panthers),” said Kimball, who suffered whiplash during a car accident in November and didn’t know if she’d be able to play this year until two weeks before the season began. “I usually watch a lot of film on teams, and we didn’t know we were going to play Snohomish. So between games I just sat on the bleachers and watched a game of theirs.”
Kimball was matched pitch for pitch by Bristol, who allowed just five hits and fanned 11, including five straight between the first and second innings. The difference was that two of Peninsula’s hits left the yard — Malia Coit’s solo shot in the top of the first staked the Seahawks to an early lead — while Snohomish, which slugged three homers in its semifinal win, was never quite able to fully get a hold of one against Kendall.
Peninsula then dealt the decisive blow in the top of the sixth. After Hailey Ruckle led off with a bloop single, Glory Estabrook hit a grounder that could have been a double play. However, an errant exchange at second base left both runners safe.
Two batters later, Kimball hit a high fly to left. Snohomish left fielder Kendel Sage nearly made a game-saving catch at the fence, but instead toppled over the fence during her attempt. The ball glanced off her glove as she fell over the fence for what proved to be the game-winning three-run homer.
“Peninsula is an incredible team,” Lande said. “Not only do they have outstanding pitching, so many players all over the field made great plays. They had timely hits, and they didn’t make a mistake. Kudos to them. That’s what it takes to win when it’s two great teams playing together, it comes down to who plays the closest to perfection.”
Snohomish reached the title game by ending Walla Walla’s Cinderella postseason run, prevailing 7-3 in the morning semifinal. Cameron Sage led the game off with the first of her two solo homers, helping the Panthers build a 3-0 lead before the Blue Devils came to bat. The game remained close until the bottom of Snohomish’s order manufactured a pair of insurance runs in the top of the seventh to give the Panthers some breathing space.
Emma Hansen also homered for Snohomish, while Kendel Sage slugged a two-run double and Bristol threw a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts.
Clarabelle Hall and Lauryn Bergevin homered for 11th-seeded Walla Walla (10-15), which reached the state semis despite starting the season 1-11.