LACEY — The Kamiakin Braves know it takes a team effort to go far at state.
Last year, the Braves came together in the greatest way imaginable, winning their first softball championship.
On Friday, they opened their Class 3A title defense at the Regional Athletic Complex with a demonstration of their finely honed brand of Brave ball: well-oiled defense, timely hitting and an uncanny ability to regroup when the situation looks dire.
After Kelso scored five runs with two outs in the seventh inning, Kamiakin pitcher Kate Austin returned to get the final out in the Braves' 10-7 first-round win.
Kamiakin advanced to face Holy Names in the quarterfinals. The Braves had much more breathing room in that matchup, winning 9-2.
Kamiakin (18-7) will play for a return trip to the state championship game at 9 a.m. today against Meadowdale.
“We did a lot of good things today. Our defense played behind our pitching. I could not be happier,” Braves coach Tim Bisson said. “We’re playing pretty well right now. Up and down the line, we just didn’t have an easy out.”
The Braves were riding the momentum of last weekend's 13-3 comeback victory over Shadle Park at the District 5/8 regional tournament in Richland, where they scored 11 runs in the top of the sixth.
They built their cushion early against three-time Class 4A state champion Kelso.
Kamiakin's Carlie Richards had a two-run, two-out single in the second off Macy Ruth, then came up in the fourth and battled for 12 pitches. With a 2-2 count, Richards popped up to Nariah Morgan, but the ball bounced off the third baseman's glove, and Emily Benson came home for a 5-1 lead.
In the fifth and sixth innings, the long ball came into play. Hunter Schneitter had a two-run blast, and Jenna Castilleja and Benson each had solo shots to help Kamiakin go up 10-2.
Cassie Ramsey relieved Braves starter Austin in the seventh. Ramsey got two flyouts with one on, but the sophomore struggled against the top part of the order. She gave up an RBI single to Lindsey Johnson, and the bases ended up loaded after a walk and an outfield error.
That set the stage for Sierra Richards' grand slam, and Ramsey's outing was over.
"She's young, she's anxious," Bisson said, noting it was Ramsey's first state appearance. "She missed some of her spots, and they made her pay.
"Kelso's a good hitting team, and it's a good thing we hit a few out. It's a good thing we broke a few windows." Kamiakin's fielding also was quite good.
In the fourth, Richards made a twisting over-the-shoulder catch in left field and threw to the infield, and third baseman Melanie Oord got the runner in the dirt for the third out.
Kelso broke up a double play in the sixth, but Kamiakin tried it again on the next batter, and it worked.
"Kind of all season, we've had an emphasis on our jobs, be it offensively or defensively," Richards said. And now, they're a win away from their second consecutive state final.
"It's my first time up here, but these kids make it pretty easy for me," Bisson said. "When you score 10 runs in a state tournament game against a perennial (state) team, they make my job pretty easy."
Benson had an especially big day, going 6-for-7 with a pair of home runs.
“We scored first in both games, which helped get the team going,” Benson said. “I hope we can do that (today) and keep playing defense like we have.”
Kelso 010 010 5 — 7 9 2
Kamiakin 220 132 x — 10 13 2
Macy Ruth, Julia Breidt (6) and Jessica Baker; Kate Austin, Cassie Ramsey (7), Austin (7) and Tawny Becker. Sierra Richards (Kel) 3x4, GS; Hunter Schneitter (Kam) 3x4, 2-run HR; Carlie Richards (Kam) 2x4, 3 RBIs; Emily Benson (Kam) 3x4, 2B, HR, 2 RBIs; Jenna Castilleja (Kam) 2x4, HR.
Holy Names 000 101 0 — 2 6 2
Kamiakin 201 213 x — 9 10 1
Austin and Becker; S.Thomas, K.Kappetto (5) and B.Root. Highlights—B.Root (HN) 3x3, HR; Carlson (HN) HR; Melanie Oord (K) 2x4, HR, 2 RBI; Emily Benson (K) 3x3, HR; Schneitter (K) HR, 2 RBI; Jessica Edminster (K) 2 RBI.