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Opportunistic West Valley clinches 2A regional softball berth

Between innings midway through the District 7 2A fastpitch softball game at West Valley’s Smith Field Saturday afternoon, a Cheney parent made a plaintive request.

“You know, I’d just like to score a run against West Valley,” he said to the cloudless blue sky.

That’s how dominant the West Valley Eagles have been in the Great Northern League. Not only did the team go through the league season without a loss (21-1 overall), the Eagles outscored league opponents 212-11.

Saturday they captured the district title with their 21st consecutive win, earned the No. 1 seed into next week’s 2A Regional tournament at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane, and guaranteed themselves a berth in the state tournament with a 9-3 victory over the Blackhawks.

All in a day’s work.

“We try to keep pretty level,” senior pitcher Kelli Peckham said. “We try to pull our focus back and worry about winning one game at a time. We’ve earned a berth at state, now we can go to work and make sure we have a high seed and give ourselves a better chance to win at state.”

League MVP Brooklyn Robinson agreed.

“If you look at it, we’re six wins away from winning a state championship,” she said. “It’s tempting when you’re this close to your goal to get distracted, but I don’t think this team will do that. I think we’ll stick to what we do, and that’s play every game, one at a time.”

West Valley coach Paul Cooley said one of his team’s strengths is the hitters’ ability to develop a strategy to attack whoever is pitching against them.

“This team does it better than any other team I’ve coached,” he said. “After the first, second, the third time you see a pitcher, you should have a good idea of what they throw and have a plan for what you’re going to do against them.

“Against Cheney, we knew their pitcher (Mandy McDowell) likes to throw the ball high and you have to lay off that pitch and force her to bring the ball down.”

Which is exactly what happened in the second inning.

Jackie Noble opened the inning by reaching base on a passed ball on a called third strike. Peckham and Molly Wachtel walked to load the bases with no outs. Robinson rapped a grounder to second that the Blackhawks could not turn into an out at the plate for one run.

After Brenna Francisco struck out, catcher Katelyn Sage walked to score a run, as did Cassie Finn. Jess Mitchell drilled a two-run single to center field that knocked McDowell out of the pitching circle, replaced by Bailey Towey.

With Gabbi Espindola at the plate and Finn at third, Mitchell stole second and a throwing error on the play allowed Finn to score.

Espindola reached on a throwing error that allowed Mitchell to score. Noble reached base for the second time in the inning, this time on a throwing error that allowed the seventh run of the inning to cross the plate.

“That’s pretty typical of this team,” Robinson said. “When we score runs, we tend to score them in bunches like that.”

Peckham, meanwhile, scattered seven hits and struck out 12 to earn the win – struggling only in the fifth inning, when a throwing error allowed a run to score. An infield single and a well-timed double steal added two more runs for Cheney.

“When things like that happen, I just focus that much harder and reach back and find a way to get the job done,” Peckham said.

Peckham slammed the door on the inning by notching back-to-back strikeouts.

Cheney 7, Clarkston 2: Nicole Lane held the Bantams in check and had three hits and scored twice as the Blackhawks claimed the second seed to regionals with a win over the Bantams.

Clarkston, which eliminated East Valley 7-0 earlier in the day, is the third seed to regionals.