Joelle Krist skidded across the plate with the winning run as the Easton Elite edged the Oregon Blaze, 4-3, in Stockton on Saturday afternoon to qualify for the 18-Under national softball tournament in Clearwater Florida.
The tight winner's bracket game progressed to the eighth inning, and both teams were awarded a runner at second base to open the frame in the internaional tie-breaking procedure used in softball.
Krist was the designated runner, having made the final out in regulation. She was moved to third base on a bunt by Petaluma teammate Meghan DeCoite. A sharp ground ball to short off the bat of Paige McIntosh of San Marin got the job done when the throw failed to nail the hustling Krist.
Both teams won earlier morning games at the Arnaiz Complex in Stockton to advance to the critical contest played in the normal mid-90 degree Central Valley heat.
Oregon advanced by beating the San Jose Strikers on a suicide squeeze bunt in the final inning. The game between the two winners was quickly played, and was decided in the final at bat for the Elite after Oregon had scored three late runs to knot the count at 3-3.
Dana Thomsen started the second game for the Elite after crafting an earlier 2-0 win featuring 13 strikeouts over the Lady Wolf-Pack of the East Bay in the morning.
Thomsen appeared fresh in the second game, but got in hot water by loading the bases early in the first inning before a close play at first base allowed fans of the Elite to breathe a little easier.
Easton chipped away at Blaze starter Kylee Crape for three runs to build a comfortable lead behind Thomsen heading into the late innings. Key hits by Krist and Denin Vera of Santa Rosa paced the rally. Crape has signed to play at the University of Toledo next season.
Catcher Angelica Terrell of Windsor smashed a fence-rattling hit off the top of the left field fence, but the ball bounced back into the playing area.
Thomsen finally began to show signs of tiring in the fifth inning when she yielded her first run of the day as the Blaze cut the margin to 3-1. Thomsen was replaced by Vera who got a double play line drive on her first pitch. The Oregon-based club did manage one more run, and went on to tie the game on a bobble in the outfield in the seventh inning.
With the potential game-winning runners aboard in the eighth inning, coach Chuck Ludlow summoned Thomsen to douse the smoldering rally. She faced runners at second and third on her reentry, but struck out Molly Smith on five pitches which allowed the infield to play back at a normal position. An infield out ended the messy situation.
The Elite moved into the winner's bracket by shutting down the Lady Wolf-Pack from San Lorenzo behind an overpowering performance by Thomsen. The Petaluma graduate struck out the first eight outs. In between, the Wolf-Pack got a sharp single by Raea Lucero from Washington High School.
Easton scored quickly in the first inning after a single by center fielder Sarah Hayes from Vintage of Napa.
The whippet-like Hayes immediately stole second, but two outs followed. Courtney Ludlow of Casa Grande hit a soft liner into center field to plate the run, and provide all the support Thomsen would need in the game. Ludlow would go on to get a hit in each of the games of the double header.