Ally Choate was swarmed by teammates after she slid safely into home plate. Celebration erupted around her and she cried.
“I feel like there’s nothing we can’t do,” Choate said. “We have prevailed whether we’re 10-running a team, or close games like this. We can do anything.”
Choate, a senior, scored the winning — and only — run on Saturday afternoon at Sprinker Recreation Center in Tacoma.
Still unbeaten this spring, the Yelm High School softball team squeaked by Bonney Lake, 1-0, in extra innings to win the Class 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament.
Choate, a Seattle University signee, hit a lead-off triple in the bottom of the eighth, and held up when sophomore MacKinzee Moore reached first on a grounder to third.
The next at-bat, junior Jaeden Ells connected on an inside fastball that headed towards the gap in left center, but Bonney Lake center fielder Raelyn Kimmel tracked it down.
“I knew we needed to score, so whatever we could do to score — bunt, hit a pop fly like I did — we just needed to score,” Ells said. “We did, and it was awesome.”
Choate tagged up on the play and barreled home, barely escaping a tag by catcher Hailee Hagins.
Yelm ace Drea Schwaier, a junior, watched the play unfold from the dugout before crashing onto the infield with the rest of the Tornados’ roster when Choate was called safe.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Schwaier said. “As soon as I saw it was out to the outfield, I knew Ally was going to make it.”
Yelm (25-0) won the regular season 3A South Sound Conference title and the 3A SSC tournament title before adding Saturday’s district title.
But Yelm coach Lindsay Walton noted that the competition is certainly getting tougher.
“We need those games to get us ready for the state tournament,” she said. “I fully expect every game, from here on out, to be close — within a run or two.
“Today was a good day for us because we haven’t been challenged like that in a while and we need it. I’m just proud of everybody.”
Yelm edged Stadium, 5-4, earlier in the day to advance to the championship game. Schwaier, a Whitworth commit, pitched complete games in both outings.
“The first game I don’t think was my very best,” Schwaier said. “I was a little bit off (Saturday) morning, and I think my defense really helped me. I stayed strong in there and kept going.”
Schwaier (13-0, 0.61 ERA) still tossed effectively in both games. She allowed four runs on nine hits against Stadium, while striking out nine and walking one on 96 pitches.
“She’s pulled through in so many games,” Choate said. “We always have confidence when Drea is on the mound.”
Schwaier said she felt more in sync against Bonney Lake and allowed just six hits while striking out seven in the complete-game shutout. She threw just 89 pitches in eight innings.
“The adrenaline was rushing through me the whole game, so I think that’s what kept me going strong,” Schwaier said. “Every single play, I kept getting more pumped.
“My teammates made plays, and it made me want to pitch even harder and even faster for them. It just got more exciting as the game went on.”
And it seemed only fitting that Choate would put the only run on the board to win a district title.
Choate, who was named The Olympian’s All-Area player of the year as a junior, was consistent at the plate both days of the tournament. In four games, she was 14 for 15 at the plate.
“I feel like I play better under pressure,” she said. “All of these games are really important, so I think I just played up to them.”
Choate was 3 for 4 in the title game with a double, triple, a stolen base and scored the only run in the title game.
Bonney Lake pitcher Brooke Nelson, a UW commit, pitched twice Saturday, too, including a 2-1 win over Kelso in the semifinals.
She threw 90 pitches against Yelm, allowing seven hits and striking out seven while walking one in a complete game.
The Panthers (22-2) advance to the 3A state tournament as the district’s No. 2 seed, while Yelm is the No. 1. Both programs open the tournament on Friday at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey.
The Tornados fell one game short of placing in the 4A tournament in Spokane a year ago, but are confident that won’t happen again.
“Next is the state title, and we’re coming to get it,” Schwaier said. “Nothing is going to stop us this year.”
Gig Harbor 6, Timberline 2: For the fourth time this season, the Blazers couldn’t quite handle the Tides and were eliminated two games short of a state-tournament berth.
“They did a lot of good things this year to take third in the league, and got in the tournament and played some good games,” Timberline coach Charles Porche said of his team.
Brooklyn Taylor-Sparks, the Blazers’ senior ace, pitched every game for Timberline in the district tournament, and finishes her career with 575 strikeouts.
“Brooklyn pitched her tail off for two days,” Porche said. “She pitched all four games, and was ready and willing to go for a fifth if we got there.”
But Gig Harbor (18-7) kept that from happening. The Tides scored two runs in the second to take an early lead.
Timberline (16-10) evened the score in the fourth inning when sophomore Bailey Haddock hit a two-run homer to center.
The Tides then rallied for four runs in the sixth. Anna Stewart hit a bases-clearing double down the left-field line to give Gig Harbor its final lead.
Taylor-Sparks allowed eight hits while striking out eight in the loss.
She tossed another complete game in a 4-1 win over Evergreen earlier, striking out 14 on the day to keep the Blazers alive.
Porche said Taylor-Sparks, a Stanislaus State signee, is one of the premier pitchers he’s seen come out of Thurston County in his career.
“Looking at what we’ve had that has come out of this area, she’s definitely in the top of that group,” he said.