by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha's Katie Buchannan singles up the middle in the second inning of the Warriors 2-1 loss to Glencoe in the second round of the 6A playoffs.

Katie Sunderland-Finch may have graduated and gone on to the University of California, but Glencoe’s softball pitching pipeline is still persistently pumping out A1 aces.

Tatum Becker and Abbi Bushong — the two latest talented Crimson Tide hurlers to emerge at Glencoe — took advantage of a varying strike zone and a periodically perplexed Aloha squad in the second round of the 6A playoffs on May 28. The Crimson Tide combination curbed the Warriors’ destructive lineup to the tune of just one run, and exploited three Aloha errors in the fifth to erase a 1-0 deficit and eliminate the Warriors from the postseason, 2-1.

Hours after the game, Aloha was kicking itself, admittedly frustrated a winnable game got away from the team. The Warriors tried to go for the jugular in the first three innings, putting six runners in scoring position versus Becker, but only brought one home on a Taylor Clark sacrifice fly in the second. Then, Glencoe inserted Bushong, who escaped a third-inning jam, went on to strike out nine batters and held Aloha scoreless for the final five innings.

“Basically, it felt like we gave it away,” said Aloha head coach Scott Coombs. “(Glencoe) is a good team. There’s a reason they’re ranked where they are. But, we really felt we played well enough to win that game.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha third baseman Shelby Ratcliffe fires a ball to first for an out in the first inning of the Warrriors 2-1 loss to Glencoe in the second round of the 6A playoffs.

In the deciding fifth, Glencoe mounted its rally with a couple of weakly hit balls in the infield that required perfect plays on Aloha’s behalf. A pair of bobbles allowed the Crimson Tide to load the bases, then the Warriors threw a ball away at home plate that scored both of Glencoe’s runs.

Coombs said the large strike zone made it difficult for Aloha’s bats to cover the outside corner and get anything going offensively. Seniors Michelle Silva and Katie Buchannan each had singles in the top of the first, and Shelby Ratcliffe tacked on a base hit in the second before scoring on Clark’s sacrifice fly. It looked like Aloha was about to avalanche Becker with a swarm of scores, but when Glencoe brought in Bushong, the game’s tide turned. Protecting a much wider strike zone, the Warriors oftentimes fell behind in the count early and were forced to flail at unsuitable offerings.

“(Bushong) basically did the same thing as the last pitcher by pounding the outside. They took advantage of that,” said Coombs. “We were crowding the plate and getting up in the box, but there were still pitches we couldn’t reach. We did our best to cover it, but the wider the strike zone got, the more difficult it becomes as a hitter.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha third baseman Shelby Ratcliffe celebrates the Warriors first run of the game with Ali Locke in the bottom of the second inning against Glencoe.

Exceeding expectations

Following the defeat, Coombs told his players to keep their heads high following a stellar season filled with 20 victories and a second-place finish in Metro — Aloha’s fourth straight year of finishing in the league’s top two. Going into this season, Coombs said “most people didn’t expect a lot out of our team.” Having graduated two Division One players in Kiana Wood and Katie Newton, the popular opinion was Aloha would fall back to the middle of the pack and have to retool a bit. That train of thought was throughly untrue, as seniors Silva, Ratcliffe, Buchannan and Emily Powers shouldered the load and shepherded talented young players in Mackenzie Sibert, Courtney Coombs and Lexi Wahlstrom into key roles around the diamond and in the lineup. Silva won her second straight Metro Player of the Year award, and Buchannan was first-team, all-Metro at first base. Wahlstrom was also picked first-team, all-Metro as a utility player. Ratcliffe made Metro’s all-second team at third base.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha junior pitcher Courtney Coombs fields a grounder and throws to first for an out against Glencoe in the second round of the 6A postseason.

“(Aloha) exceeded a lot of people’s expectations,” said Coombs. “They played together as a group, and that showed. We wanted them to be competitive, but have fun doing it. And, they accomplished that. Being able to have fun and enjoy the team and play together is basically what got them the success they had.”

After starting the preseason 1-3, Aloha finished the season winning 12 of its last 13 games, getting key hits on offense and strong pitching from Courtney Coombs, who stepped out from behind Wood’s larger-than-life shadow with an all-Metro junior season. Additionally, Wahlstrom came on in relief in the last two Metro contests of the season and pitched well, giving Aloha two pitching pillars to build on next season. Losing Powers, Silva and Ratcliffe is going to be “really tough,” Coombs said, not only because they were stellar defensively for four years, but also were three of the Warriors’ top four hitters.

“We’ll do our best to make a push and replace those girls, but it won’t be easy,” said Coombs. “We’re going to have to look at what we have when we’re done and see what we have. Hopefully, we’ll have the same type of improvement we had this year with the new girls stepping up and taking advantage of new opportunities.”

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