One win away from state

ANACORTES — Most of the time it’s a home run or a hard-hit ball into the gap that stands out after a game.

For the North Whidbey Little League Junior All-Star softball team, the largest hit of its 6-2, District 11 semifinal victory over South Whidbey, was its shortest one.

With two out and the bases loaded in the third inning, number six hitter Aria Araceley stepped to the plate. Swinging at the first pitch, Araceley chopped the ball into the ground, causing it to roll slowly up the first base line

“It was kind of a mistake,” she said. “It was too high, so I was about to swing and I didn’t fully swing.”

Araceley’s half swing was good enough, however, as she sprinted up the line and forced a hurried, late throw to first. Two runners scored on the play and with a wild throw to first base, one more crossed the plate, breaking the game open for a 5-1 lead.

“That’s why you hustle down the line,” NWLL coach Dave Jackson said. “That’s why we teach that it doesn’t matter where it’s at, you’ve got to sprint to first base and good things will happen.”

Although Araceley’s hit distanced North Whidbey, Kayla Ratliff also came up big earlier that inning, driving an RBI single down the left field line, which broke a 1-1 tie.

Andrea Stack added one more run in the fifth with an RBI single over the second baseman’s head.

It wasn’t the hits alone that pushed North Whidbey to victory Sunday, but solid pitching from the starter, Ratliff.

The right-hander went the complete seven innings, allowing two runs on four hits, five walks along with seven strikeouts.

“That’s what I like about her is that it doesn’t matter, even when the calls don’t look like they’re going her way, she just doesn’t care,” Jackson said. “She knows what she’s got to do and she’s going to do it.”

Happy with her own performance, Ratliff felt she could have had a little more control, noting that it’s a lot more difficult to pitch on the field turf (synthetic grass) surface at Anacortes.

“Usually on a normal field you have the dirt and when you bring your foot up it comes with you and helps you bring your body forward, but with this your foot just stops,” she said.

Sunday’s victory placed North Whidbey in the championship game at 5:30 p.m., today, July 13 at Volunteer Park in Anacortes.

NWLL would have to lose twice to not make it to state. A win over South Whidbey tonight or Friday guarantees a state berth, which Jackson believes would be a first ever for a North Whidbey Little League softball team.

“I’d have to check into it, but to my recollection we haven’t,” he said of sending a softball team to state.

Not only would a state tournament be a special event in itself, but this year’s junior tournament will take place in Oak Harbor, July 23-31 at Volunteer Park.

The prospect of getting to play in front of their home town for a state title is something that excites most of the players as it would be a great way to wrap up the Little League season.

“It would mean a lot,” Ratliff said. “We’ve been working hard and we deserve it.”

All-star roundup

As of press time seven area teams were eliminated from their respective all star tournaments.

The three still playing are the 9-10 year-old NWLL softball team, which vies for a trip to state at 6 p.m., tonight, July 13 at Skagit River Park in Burlington. The NWLL and Central Whidbey Little League 9-10 year-old baseball teams are also still playing as both began their tournaments last night at Bakerview Park in Mount Vernon.

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