A riser, curveball and some gold gloves.
Tahoma – with those ingredients – jumped out to a quick lead and rode the arm of Dani Dennis and stout defense to blank Auburn Mountainview 3-0 to capture the 4A North Puget Sound League fastpitch title on a damp and chilly Saturday evening in Maple Valley.
The Bears (17-5), winners of 16 of their last 17 games, enter this week’s district tournament as the league’s top seed and all the momentum that comes with it.
District play begins Friday at the Kent Service Club Ballfields, with the tournament concluding Saturday. The top eight teams advance to state the following week.
It was Tahoma’s first outright league title in the last four years.
“We’re super pumped. We are in a winning mode right now,” said Dennis, a junior, who tossed a complete-game, one-hit gem for the Bears at the new park at Tahoma High School. “Our mentality right now is win, win, win. … Now that we know we can beat these good teams, we can go far.”
Dennis went upstairs and downstairs – a riser-curveball combination with good movement and location – to keep the Lions off balanced. She contained the Lions, striking out eight and relying on her defense to overcome her eight walks.
The last time the teams met – two months ago – the Lions scored five runs in the seventh for a 6-3 win. Tahoma played without four players lost to injuries, including Dennis who had a concussion.
This time around, Tahoma came ready.
Each time Auburn Mountainview had baserunners in scoring position, Tahoma responded. Double plays ended Lion threats in the fifth and sixth innings. Taylor Anderson’s diving catch in shallow right field and throw to first base to double off the runner ended the sixth.
“The defense was huge. Every single girl out there impacted that game,” said Tahoma coach Christina Millan.
“I’m so happy I have a good defense,” Dennis said. “Some teams have a good pitcher but not a good defense. We’re blessed to have girls who can make double plays when we need them and girls who can make clutch plays.”
Tahoma used three soft singles to push across two runs in the first inning.
After Kaylee Hazelwood’s bloop single to right, Kiera Shipley singled to left and Anderson hit up the middle to plate Hazelwood. Claire Phillips’ groundout scored Shipley.
Tahoma added a run in the sixth on Shipley’s groundout that scored Hazelwood, who opened the inning with a base hit.
“I’m expecting us to go out and compete each day,” Millan said of her team. “This is great momentum to take into the (district) tournament.”
Dennis worked long and hard Saturday, pitching the Bears to a 7-1 semifinal win over Auburn Riverside earlier in the day.
The district tournament began Tuesday and ends Saturday.
Tahoma plays at 4:30 p.m. today, Friday, at the Kent Service Fields against the winner of the Auburn vs. Curtis game.
Kentwood plays 11 a.m. Friday at the Kent Service Fields against Federal Way.
Kentlake played Tuesday and lost 15-5 to Battle Ground in a loser out game.
The top eight teams from the district tournament advance to the state championship tournament.