Sports

Who could've imagined this?

Top: Turning away from a conference at the mound, freshman Christie Robinson goes back to work on Ephrata Friday; Bottom: After coming home as a courtesy runner, freshman Carrie Anderson celebrates a 6-0 lead over Ephrata with Ashley Lopez in the first game of last week
Top: Turning away from a conference at the mound, freshman Christie Robinson goes back to work on Ephrata Friday; Bottom: After coming home as a courtesy runner, freshman Carrie Anderson celebrates a 6-0 lead over Ephrata with Ashley Lopez in the first game of last week's state fastpitch tournament.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Three years ago when Keasha Campbell was a freshman fastpitch softball player for South Whidbey High School, the future looked bleak.

That year, 1999, the Falcons finished their second winless season in a row. Their most ambitious dream that season had been to win a single game, against anybody.

On Saturday, Campbell and her fastpitch teammates shook off the last bits of ignominy of those dark days by playing their way to the state championship game of the 16- team WIAA 2A fastpitch tournament. And although they lost that game 3-0 to champion Othello, the Falcons proved they will be the team to beat for at least the next three years.

While the loss -- South Whidbey's second of the year -- hurt, it did nothing to damage Campbell's wonderment over what has been a dream senior season.

"I never imagined getting second in state," she said.

The championship game was one of four close, draining contests for the Falcons who, after outscoring opponents by a total of 245-30 this season, were used to winning big.

Against Othello, South Whidbey got another near-perfect pitching performance from freshman Christie Robinson. In her fourth game in two days and only 24 hours after hurling a no-hitter against Ridgefield, Robinson, who finished the year at 18-2, was the player who kept the team in the game. Throwing 12 strikeouts in the complete game loss, she maintained her 0.00 season earned run average, but could not make up for the runs Othello scored off Falcon fielding errors. All she could do was pitch until the gas tank hit empty.

"I was tired and left it all out on the field," Robinson said. "I couldn't have asked any more of myself."

Though both teams had hits and scoring chances, the Falcons had no luck scoring off Othello pitcher Patty Martinez. Junior Shannon Brown was the only Falcon with consistent success at the plate, going 2-for-2 against Martinez. But her performance, plus three other scattered hits, could not spark a rally.

"We had some opportunities, but we couldn't get a key hit," said Falcon Coach Todd Lubach.

The other games of the two-day tournament were almost as tight for the Falcons. Back at Wenatchee after exiting last year's state tournament in three games, the Falcons went to work early in the morning Friday. In an 8 a.m. game against Ephrata, the South Whidbey girls made the contest look as easy as several they had during the regular season. A Falcon double play that ended the first inning was a good omen, as was freshman pitching ace Christie Robinson, who pitched three flawless innings before getting relief from Ashley Lopez. With momentum behind them, the Falcons piled up a 6-0 lead in their first three shots at bat.

Ephrata came back in the fourth with two runs, taking advantage of one of a rare four South Whidbey errors in the game. But they never came closer than the final 7-4 score as Robinson and Lopez combined for 12 strikeouts and a Falcon offense led by Mary Murphy, Carolann Lubach and Julie Robinson ignited a 14-hit team performance.

The relative ease of that first game belied the players' nervousness over Friday's second game, against Ridgefield. Having lost to that team in the first game of last year's state tournament, the South Whidbey girls were out for a measure of revenge. They got it, with a 3-0 win that was almost all Christie Robinson's doing. On the mound, Robinson used a combination of fastballs, change-ups and drop balls to keep the Ridgefield batters confused; at the plate, she went 3-for-3 and brought in one of South Whidbey's runs.

"That was pretty much her game," said Lubach of his freshman phenom.

Saturday's semifinal was closer still. In the first inning against East Valley-Yakima, the Falcons got an early score when an error on a fluke hit between second base and right center field allowed an East Valley runner to score.

Down 1-0 behind Robinson's pitching until the seventh, the Falcons tied the game on a two-out double that sent both teams into extra innings.

After no scoring in the eighth, the game went into an international tiebreaker, which put the last out of every inning back on base in the next. Both teams scored under these rules in the ninth inning, but it was the Falcons who came up with a winning run in the 10th. Mary Murphy did the deed, coming home on a wild pitch.

The tournament, and the Falcons' 24-2 season, ended almost exactly as the team had planned back in March. The only thing that didn't quite follow the dream scenario was the loss in the state final.

"We had a plan from the very beginning," said Lubach.

Next season, the Falcons return to the field with every member of the team back except Campbell. Lubach said losing Campbell is a blow to the team in terms of playing ability, leadership and perspective. He said she is the only South Whidbey fastpitch player to have experienced both the best and the worst parts of the team's history.

"She could write a book," he said.

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