Kalei Smith’s two-run homer was significant for multiple reasons.
Not only was it her first of the season, but it would be the hit that broke open Hermiston’s home game against the Kennewick Lions on the way to a 7-1 victory.
The win earned the Bulldogs second place in the WIAA’s District 8, as well as a ticket to the state tournament in Lacey, Wash. Hermiston will play Bonney Lake at noon Friday in the first round.
“I’m so proud of this group of kids,” said Hermiston coach Kate Greenough. “They’ve worked so hard over the past few weeks to become the players they are now. If there were any big firsts to have in the WIAA, I’m glad this was it.”
Despite the blowout, the game took 1½ innings to get going. Lions pitcher Claire Jenne’s change-up gave Hermiston batters trouble at the plate, keeping them scoreless for the first inning.
The game was Kennewick’s second of the day. They were fresh off a 4-3 win against Shadle Park.
Hermiston’s Bailee Noland was sharp in the top of the second to hold Kennewick off the scoreboard, as well.
“I was reading every batter,” said Noland, who benched seven Lions by the game’s end. “I would pitch to certain spots to get those strikeouts. I came out knowing that this could possibly be our last game of the season. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I was doing this for my team.”
With two outs on the board, Hermiston’s Grace Studer doubled in the bottom of the second, and Smith’s homer came on a full count and soared over the left field fence to put her team on the board.
“I wasn’t expecting that to happen,” said Smith, a junior. “It was good to be the one to break the ice.”
Jenne’s pitches hit both Sydney Stefani and Samantha Atilano during the next two at-bats, and Ashley Cameron’s single drove in Stefani for a 3-0 Bulldog advantage. Noland was also hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Daisy Maddox popped out at center field to strand all three runners.
“Home runs are lucky,” Greenough said. “We’ll take what we can get. (Smith’s) homer took it from a 1-0 game and made it so everyone could drop their shoulders a little bit.”
Halle Pennington slugged Hermiston’s second home run in the following inning. The Lions finally got a run in the top of the fourth when Alexis Ames’ sacrifice bunt drove in Abriel Johnson-Cuello.
Bailey Warren would attempt another run for the Lions in the top of the sixth, but Studer fired the ball to Atilano, who tagged Warren out at home.
Stefani drew a walk in the bottom of the sixth and bolted all the way to third after Atilano’s bunt in the ensuing at-bat. Cameron’s single would drive Stefani home, and Noland scored on an error to put the game away.
“We gave it our all during our last game (a 4-2 loss to Southridge), and we carried over that motivation today,” Noland said. “This is the first time this team has been to state. The girls really brought the fight today.”
Cameron was perfect at the plate, batting 3-for-3 with a run and two RBIs. Studer hit 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Hermiston (16-8, 10-6 MCC) will contend for their first state title in the Mid-Columbia Conference on Friday. Their opponent for the Lacey-hosted game has yet to be determined.