When the Washington Angels 16U softball team heads to Salem, Va., for the Amateur Softball Association/USA Girls Class A Fastpitch tournament from July 27-Aug. 3, they won’t just be bringing players and equipment.
They’ll be taking lots of memories with them of their fallen teammate Kate Austin, a pitcher who, along with her brother Ethan, was found dead in her Kennewick home in early June.
“We have our team banner with (Kate) on it. We have stickers on our helmets. Plus our hair bows and bag tags,” said Baylee Day, Austin’s cousin and former teammate with the Angels and Kamiakin Braves.
The tragedy brought the Angels, Austin’s club team, closer together and gave them a unified purpose in winning their first ASA state title Sunday in Selah.
“Our motto for the weekend was ‘State for Kate,’ ” Angels coach Rob Dilger said. “We set a goal and kind of dedicated the rest of our softball careers to Kate.”
The Angels won ther first four games to earn a spot in the championship against the Washington Blaze. Thanks in part to seven errors, they lost to the Blaze but — because of the double-elimination format — got another chance to capture the title in a rematch.
Day commanded the center circle by allowing just two runs on four hits, and Paige Liikala drove in three runs with a pair of doubles to give the Angels a 10-2 win.
“Our key was playing as a team. We knew we were playing them (for the third time) in a row, and we couldn’t make any mistakes,” Day said. “We had to jump on them like someone we didn’t like.”
Day and her catcher, Tawny Becker, had reason to believe the Blaze were stealing signals and took measures to fix it before the final matchup. Becker would drop down the decoy sign first and then flash the real sign where she wanted the pitch thrown.
That kind of thinking is a big reason why Day trusts Becker behind the plate.
“Any time I go to pitch, I want her as my catcher,” Day said.
Day also kept the Blaze anxious at the plate, waiting a few extra beats before delivering her pitches.
In the end, it was a perfect team win over a strong opponent.
“I think (Kate’s death) brought us much closer. We all stuck together and processed it together,” Day said. “I always remember her making me stronger.”
The Angels aren’t the only team who have been affected by the loss. Dilger said teams from Oregon and Idaho have chosen to wear the stickers with “KA” on their helmets during each game this season.
“Just through the coaching network, it’s gotten out there and touched a lot of people,” Dilger said.
Starting with a team meeting Monday night, the Angels now have less than a month to raise money to send the team to Virginia. Between airfare, hotel costs, meals and everything in between, it could be between $2,000 and $3,000 per player before it’s all said and done.
To contribute to the team’s fundraising efforts, visit the Washington Angels home page at www.eteamz.com/washingtonangels1/.