By Remony Henry
For The Beachcomber
At the bottom of the 7th, with one out and bases loaded, the Pirates were trailing by one run in the championship league game. Freshman player Ivy Merkel had one strike against her and was waiting for the second pitch. Everyone else was holding their breath.
The VHS fastpitch varsity softball team played the final game of the 2021 season against Bellevue Christian for the Nisqually League championship. The Pirates, led by four seniors, including shortstop Rachael Freebourn, third base Leela Hendon, first base Pippa Slade and pitcher Tamsen Henry, started the season with a 20-1 shellacking from Cedar Park Christian in a non-league game. They then went undefeated for the rest of the season and earned the number one seed for this championship game.
Hendon, Slade and Henry have played together, starting on the Vashon Youth Baseball & Softball Rockettes, since 2012. They were joined by Freebourn and by junior, second base Kaitlyn Bonaventura in 2014, and by junior catcher Lola Kuyper in 2017. Throughout the years they have been coached by Robert Henry and Rick Bonaventura. This solid core was joined this year by new recruits, junior Bethany Gasser, and freshmen Makayla Joanis, Grace Denall, Brooklyn Stumpf, Ivy Merkel and Keely Flannery.
The championship game got off to a rough start with two runs for Bellevue and three strikeouts at the top of the order for Vashon. In the second inning, pitcher Henry struck out two batters and fielded an out with a throw to Slade at first base. Then Freebourn and Bonaventura both brought in runs, capitalizing on aggressive base running to achieve three steals, including a steal home by Bonaventura, and thus evening up the score.
In the third inning, Bellevue’s bats came alive. Nine players batted and three scored. A key out was made with the catch of a fly ball by Stumpf in center field. At the bottom of the 3rd, Joanis led off with a triple down the left-field line on the second pitch. Hendon was able to bring Joanis in but was thrown out stealing second. Kuyper and Henry were outs two and three with a strikeout and a throw from third to first.
At the top of the 4th, with a score of 3-5, Bellevue was at the top of their batting order, and the Vikings scored three more runs. Henry caught a hit for the first out, struck out the seventh batter for out number two and threw out a runner attempting to steal home with a throw to Kuyper at the plate for three.
Tensions were high as the Pirates entered the bottom of the 4th, down 3-8. Solid-hitter Freebourn started off a comeback with a home run on the second pitch. Bonaventura got on base with a single but was thrown out at third in an attempted steal. Flannery got a single and was brought in by singles from Stumpf and Joanis.
At the top of the 5th, Vashon’s luck started to change. Bellevue brought in two more runs but was then shut down with a key catch by Merkel in right field, a strikeout by Henry, and a play at second with a throw from Slade to Bonaventura. By the end of the inning, Henry got on base with a single and was followed by Freebourn with another single. Slade and Bonaventura brought these runners in with an RBI from Slade and a double from Bonaventura.
At the top of the 6th, with Bellevue still ahead, Vashon shut down the Vikings with two strikeouts by Henry and a left-field catch by Denall. Sadly, Bellevue returned the favor and the Pirates did not advance, entering the final inning with a score of 7-10.
The first Bellevue batter hit to second and the ball was fielded by Bonaventura to Slade for the out at first. Freebourn caught a fly ball at shortstop for the second out, followed by a throw from Henry to Slade at first for the third out. Three up, three down. It was do-or-die time for Vashon.
Henry led off with a single. Freebourn followed with a single and advanced Henry. Then Slade, with another single, advanced both runners and brought Henry in, bringing the score to 8-10 with Bellevue still ahead. Freebourn got the first out attempting to steal third. Bonaventura was walked, advancing Slade. Flannery was hit by a pitch and advanced Slade and Bonaventura. Stumpf connected for a single and brought in Slade.
And there, at bottom of the 7th, with one out and bases loaded — Stumpf on first, Flannery on second, Bonaventura on third and freshman Ivy Merkel at-bat with one strike against her — Vashon was closing in on Bellevue, ahead by just one. Merkel, who had managed a clutch hit in a come-from-behind game against Whidbey earlier in the week, connected for a line drive that was fumbled by Bellevue, bringing in both Bonaventura and Flannery for two runs and the win. The team rushed the field and lifted Merkel to their shoulders, the fans taking a sigh of relief.