High School Sports

Richland pitcher Andrews leads Force 16U team to fastpitch nationals

After helping pitch the Richland Bombers to a third-place finish at the Class 4A state softball tournament in May, Kayla Andrews quickly got back to work with the Washington Force Black.

On July 8 in Kennewick, the Force won the 16U ASA A-Division state title, securing a berth in this week’s USA/ASA Girls Class A 16U Fastpitch National Championship in Montgomery, Ala.

The Force opens pool play at 7 a.m. PDT Monday against the Lady Lightning Gold of Lexington, N.C.

On the last day of the state tournament, Andrews pitched in two victories against the Washington Patriots. In 100-degree heat, the 6-foot right-hander struck out nine on the day.

“It was really hot, but all I could really think about was this was the farthest we’d ever gotten, and I really wanted to take it with my team behind me,” Andrews said.

The trip to nationals will be full of new experiences for Andrews, an incoming junior at Richland.

For one thing, she has only traveled as far as Colorado.

Then there’s that infamous Southern humidity that can smother the uninitiated.

But it’s all exciting for Andrews, whose pitching career almost ended in her first game at age 10. She was hit in the head by a ball while playing for a rec team.

“My dad was behind the plate. He was throwing it back to me, and I missed the ball,” Andrews said. “It hit me on my forehead, right between my eyebrows.”

Andrews was so shaken up that she didn’t pitch for two years. She reluctantly took it up again when her Force 12U team needed extra pitchers.

Now she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I played first base for a while, but pitching, you get to handle the ball every single play, and you determine what the batter is going to do,” she said.

Next season, Andrews and Richland senior left-hander Paige Goulet will be the pitching tandem to watch in the Mid-Columbia Conference. This past spring, they steered the Bombers to a 25-6 overall record and handled the playoffs like veterans, even though they entered with little postseason experience.

“That actually really helped me with my composure because if something bad happens — the other team gets a good hit — you can’t think about it too much, you just keep going,” Andrews said. “If anything happened like that with the Force, I didn’t care. I’d strike the next girl out.”

Andrews also grew up at the plate against pitchers such as Walla Walla’s Alyson Ambler, who helped lead the Blue Devils to the 2011 state title.

Andrews finished CBBN 4A play batting .514 with 24 RBIs and three home runs.

“The experience at Richland really helped my confidence because I faced way better pitchers than you ever see,” Andrews said. “If I can hit off them, I can hit off anyone.”

Force co-head coach Casey Emery, who coaches Andrews at Richland, said he has noticed a positive shift in her attitude since her freshman year.

“She’s definitely grown a lot as far as her maturity level,” Emery said. “She’s a big, strong kid. She was definitely that last year, but she just didn’t have the confidence or maybe that of her teammates. She threw hard already, but over the offseason, she worked on her accuracy and hitting her spots. She had a tendency to have a pretty high walk ratio, but this year, I bet she averaged less than two walks a game.”

Andrews would like to pitch in college, and her performance this week at nationals could go a long way toward boosting her profile. Boise State is Andrews’ first-choice college because of its sports medicine program, but she’s eager to hear from any school.

“Physically, she has all the tools to do it,” said Force co-head coach Stephanie Hogan, who coaches Richland’s junior varsity team. “She works so hard. She never really complains. We’ve had talks about how hard you have to work to get to where you want to be. She puts in the time. When she has a great game and does a good job, it’s all worth it.”

Force Black roster

P/1B Kayla Andrews (Richland); OF Reilly Bramlett (Richland); OF Maddy Jones (Richland); C/3B April Utecht (Richland); OF Alicia Maul (Richland); P/OF Katelyn Sitsler (Richland); 2B Hailey Watkins (Richland); SS Stephanie Merwin (Richland); OF Jillian Sitsler (Richland); P/1B Kadi Patterson (Hanford); 2B Emma Garcia (Hanford); OF Victoria Nunez (Tri-Cities Prep); C/3B Danielle Tollison (Southridge); 3B Jordan Ziemba (Southridge).

Co-head coaches: Casey Emery and Stephanie Hogan (Richland). Assistant coaches: Al Garcia and Brent Andrews. Manager: Rob Sitsler.

w Katie Dorsey: 582-1526; kdorsey@tricityherald.com