Sports

Decatur drops two of three

y DAN BEEKMAN

The Mirror

As darkness enveloped the South End Recreational Area Sports Complex, 14 tired girls broke out of their post-game huddle for the last time. A heart-rendering loss had just ended Decatur’s fastpitch season. Even so, the Gators’ faces were all flushed with pride.

Decatur just squeaked into last weekend’s Class 4A State Fastpitch Championships in Tacoma — the school’s first-ever appearance. The young squad, led by senior pitcher Rachael Painter, didn’t survive the first day of competition. But in three thrilling games Friday, Decatur clearly showed it belonged with the state’s elite.

“Its always difficult to lose but this has been great,” Gators coach Mike Painter said. “We gave up three earned runs in three games. What more can a guy ask for?”

Decatur (22-7) dropped its first game to University (Spokane), 3-2, beat Everett, 3-0, and was knocked out of the double-elimination tournament by Wilson in a late 3-2 tear-jerker Friday night. Ultimately, the Gators had only themselves to blame for their elimination. All three Wilson runs were unearned, including the game winner.

But in the face of shaky defense and tough competition, Decatur’s ace shined. Rachael Painter pitched every inning Friday and racked up 20 strikeouts. The Gators’ victory over Everett was her 22nd win of the season.

“From sophomore year on, my goal has been to bring this team to state,” she said. “Just getting here has been a great accomplishment.”

University (Spokane) received a rude welcome to Western Washington in their first round bout with Decatur. The Gators jumped out to an early, first-inning lead when vaunted Titan hurler Linse Vlahovich tossed two straight wild pitches past her catcher. Decatur’s Lindsey Bright scored the go-ahead run.

Decatur’s celebration didn’t last long, however. Painter walked two Titans and Ashley Fargher laid down a perfect RBI bunt to tie the game, 1-1. The Gators reclaimed the lead in the top of the third behind some timely hitting and aggressive base running. Kelsey Lusebrink scored on a Bright double, accidentally securing the run when University’s throw home slammed into the back of her batting helmet.

Then Vlahovich kicked her game into high gear. The senior pitcher recorded six strikeouts in the final four innings and no Gator made it past first base.

In the bottom of the fifth, Furgher smacked a double deep into left field and Titan slugger Theresa Tviet brought her home with a game-tying, two-out triple. Tviet struck again in the bottom of the seventh. The junior third baseman sent Decatur packing with another two-out RBI blast, her third hit of the game. Morgan Bright led the Gators, going 2-for-3 from the plate.

“(University) played better than we did,” coach Painter said. “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. Their clutch players really delivered and our better hitters didn’t do worth a darn.”

Decatur stayed alive against Everett as Painter shut out and no-hit the Seagulls. Early on, Everett ace Jessica Carey matched her counterpart’s dominance and both squads remained scoreless through four innings. But Decatur’s Katie Mask led off the fifth with a single and Kendal Nakashima drove her in. Painter paced the Gators with two hits in three at-bats and barely let the Seagulls out of the infield.

“Rachael was one tough walk away from a perfect game,” coach Painter said. “These other kids played their guts out but we did what it took to win. We did a good job base running and that’s what wins close games.”

In its third and final game Friday, Decatur self-destructed against Tacoma powerhouse Wilson. The Gators fought back from an early 2-0 deficit with runs in both the fourth and fifth innings. Nakashima slapped the second pitch of the fourth inning into left field for a single and Stephanie Zeeb sent her home with a ground-out. An error scored Mask in the fifth to tie the game at 2-2.

Wilson outlasted Decatur, however, capitalizing on a pair of Gator errors in the top of the sixth.

“We didn’t give up any earned runs,” coach Painter said. “I’m ecstatic we hung with them. Wilson is a good team and very well-coached.”

The Gators looked disappointed afterwards, but not unhappy.

“We fought really hard,” Rachael Painter said. “This is the best group of girls ever.”

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