After several years of falling just short of qualifying for the 5A state softball tournament, the Post Falls Trojans broke down that barrier Wednesday.
Senior pitcher Richelle Ashburn struck out 31 in two games and teammates backed her with timely hits and solid defense as Post Falls captured its first 5A Region I title. The third-seeded Trojans defeated No. 2 Coeur d’Alene 2-0 at Ramsey Park, then followed it up with a 2-1 championship-game victory over top-seeded Lake City on the Timberwolves’ field.
Coeur d’Alene bounced back to eliminate No. 4 Lewiston 3-2. Lake City, which thumped Lewiston 9-2 in its opener, entertains the Vikings at 4 p.m. Friday for the region’s second berth to state, next week in Twin Falls.
Post Falls will make its first trip to state since 2006, the school’s last year in the 4A ranks.
“Every year we’ve missed it by one game,” 13-year head coach Jack Foster said. “Last year I think we lost to Coeur d’Alene 2-1 and they went to state. Every year our teams place (high) down there. The breaks went our way and we took advantage. It’s nice to have them go our way.”
Foster was soaking wet after an obligatory Gatorade shower, but that wasn’t the only reason he was feeling cool about what he witnessed in the two games.
“It’s cool, especially for those two seniors who have been through this,” said Foster, pointing at Ashburn and Bri Joseph. “It’s really neat for them to get a chance to do something like this.”
The Trojans took precautions to make sure Ashburn’s arm was prepared for pitching two games in one day for the first time this season.
“Everybody looked at us like we were crazy (during the regular season), but with her (past) shoulder stuff, it wasn’t worth taking the chance,” Foster said.
Ashburn shut down Coeur d’Alene on one hit. She struck out 16 and her RBI single in the sixth inning broke a scoreless battle. Kendal Floch’s run-scoring double provided an insurance run in the seventh.
Ashburn limited the Timberwolves to four hits while striking out 15. Lake City’s lone run in the sixth inning was unearned.
“I feel like I could pitch another one,” said Ashburn, who has signed to play at Seattle University. “I was ready for it. We’ve been saving my arm all season for this.”
Ashburn wore out the outside corner.
“She’s just very good at hitting the outside corner and she’s consistent with it,” Lake City coach Laura Tolzmann said.
Lake City freshman Casey Stangel nearly matched Ashburn pitch for pitch.
Stangel fanned 11 and gave up just five hits. Two Lake City errors factored into the Trojans’ two-run third.
Joseph lined a lead-off single and then swiped second base. Katie King hit a grounder to first baseman Kory Kritz, who briefly considered throwing to third. That hesitation allowed King to beat Kritz’s throw to Jamie Hall, who was covering first.
King then stole second base as catcher Mariah Linahan’s throw sailed into right-center, allowing Joseph to score from third.
King later got caught between third and home, but the Timberwolves didn’t execute in the rundown and King scored the second run.
“That’s the game of fastpitch – one big hit, one big error, that changes everything in these close pitching duels,” Tolzmann said.
Foster knows the feeling. In the sixth, Post Falls had a chance at throwing out pinch runner Mac Brown at third, but the ball glanced off Floch’s glove and Brown trotted home.
Katie Rowe, who broke the school’s home run record this season, followed with drive to right-center that Heidi Mueller caught just in front of the fence.
“I felt we played to the best of our abilities and I’m really confident going to state because the whole team sees what we can do,” Ashburn said.
Earlier, Stangel blanked Lewiston over the last five innings and she had three of LC’s 13 hits.
Coeur d’Alene evened its loser-out game with the Bengals at 2 on consecutive hits by Jessica Lupinacci, Kristina Goodwin and Hailey Petit in the fourth.
The Vikings scored the go-ahead run in the sixth when Lewiston mishandled a blooper in the infield.