South Whidbey junior Bella Northup looked to the outfield as she approached the plate.
Trailing Sultan 2-1 in the top of the seventh inning with two outs and runners in scoring position, the game rested on her shoulders. Undaunted by the pressure, Northup sought an opening in the Turk defense.
“I’m super picky with all the pitches,” Northup said. “Once I saw it, I knew where to put it.”
Northup found pay dirt when she launched a shot to center field to score seniors Aria Ludtke and Kacie Hanson and push the Falcons ahead 3-2. The Falcons scored twice more following Northup’s double RBI, then junior pitcher Mackenzie Collins disrupted any chance of a Turks comeback by throwing two strikeouts and forcing a groundout in the bottom of the seventh inning.
While South Whidbey’s 5-2 win was a positive indication of the Falcons’ ability for a comeback, it also exposed the team’s nearly fatal flaw.
“We needed to come out sooner with that last-inning energy,” said Collins, who threw five strikeouts in three innings pitched. “We had big hits in the last inning, we just needed it sooner.”
“We just need to pick up the intensity and go forward from the start and not wait to see what happens,” added senior Leah Merrow.
Head coach Alexandra Walter praised the Falcons for their comeback and their collective boost in intensity in the seventh inning. But, she knew their performance wasn’t perfect; players didn’t score their first run until the fourth inning.
“I think their bats were really flat in the beginning,” Walter said. “But, the way that they rallied was really, really good. They needed that.”
South Whidbey (9-7 overall and 7-5 in the Cascade Conference) earned its third victory over Sultan (0-12 overall and 0-9 in league) this season. The Falcons are second in the league behind unbeaten Cedarcrest, and two games ahead of third place Granite Falls.
The Falcons finished last season 4-18 overall and 3-15 in league, good for second-to-last in the Cascade Conference standings. South Whidbey’s veteran players attributed the turnaround to the team’s underclassmen, who have helped anchor the lineup with strong at-bats.
“They’re all very teachable and really, really enthusiastic,” Merrow said. “It’s really nice to have that. We have the means to do it now. Last year and the year before, we just didn’t have the numbers, but we had the passion. Now, we can put it all together.”
“It’s great to prove people wrong. Last year, there was no way we’d be second in league,” Collins added.
South Whidbey played Granite Falls after The Record’s deadline Friday afternoon. The Falcons host Cedar Park Christian at 4 p.m. on Tuesday in their final home game, then wrap up the regular season against Cedarcrest on Thursday, May 11.
The class 1A District 1 Championships are from May 15-20 at Janicki Fields in Sedro-Woolley.