Using a gutsy call to ice the game, the Flagstaff Girls Softball Little League 10- to 12-year-old All-Star team advanced to the West Regional semifinals after beating Northern California, 3-1, Tuesday in San Bernardino, California.
Martinez Little League, the Northern California representative, had a shot to earn a walk-off win in the bottom of the sixth inning when it put runners at first and second base after Flagstaff manager Mark Wilson decided to have his pitcher, Gracie Schmitz, intentionally walk the batter who had two hits in the game.
“We just didn’t want to challenge that girl at that moment,” Wilson said. “There’s a time and a place to pick your battles, so we had Gracie intentionally walk her."
The skipper added that they did not want that one swing making it a tied ball game.
With the winning run up to bat and two outs on the board, Northern California batter Erin Holiday grounded out to Flagstaff third baseman Izabel Pozar, who completed the play and ended the game.
“What I was so really impressed by with our team was that they got 1-0 on us, they jumped up on us and there was no panic. They just continued to stick with the script and they kept playing and scratching away,” Wilson said. “Eventually, it was tied, up 2-1 then up 3-1.”
Schmitz got the complete-game win in the circle, and threw four strikeouts, walked two batters, and gave up just three hits and one run. The defense behind her shone in the game as they registered 14 defensive outs.
“This is what we said early on. Gracie pitches well but she is one component of an extremely strong team, and defensively they had her back,” Wilson said.
Flagstaff started the game down one run after Martinez batter Makenzie Stenson hit a fly-ball RBI double to center field.
Going into the top of the third down 1-0, Flagstaff scored off a ground-ball single by Gianna Baca, who finished 1 for 3 with one RBI. The hit brought in Reese Elliott from third base to tie the game.
Schmitz and the Flagstaff defense would retire the side in the bottom of the third with one strikeout and two ground outs before taking the lead in the fourth.
Flagstaff hit three straight singles coming off the bats of Schmitz, Alyssa Fockler and Isabella Giurlanda to start the top of the fourth, giving Danica Wilson a chance to give her team the lead with bases loaded. Wilson grounded into an out at first, but Schmitz came home on the play to give Flagstaff a 2-1 lead. Flagstaff then had their second straight three-up, three-down inning of the game to close the fourth.
The fifth ended scoreless with Flagstaff recording the loan hit of the inning while retiring Martinez in order.
Flagstaff then added some insurance to its lead in the top of the sixth, scoring one run off the bat of Giurlanda, bringing in Schmitz and pushing the lead to 3-1.
As a team, Flagstaff notched nine hits from six batters and no errors, while Northern California had three hits and two errors.
Having beaten Southern California, 3-1, Nevada, 10-0, and Northern California, 3-1, Flagstaff has a 16-2 run differential going into the final day of the West Regional on Thursday.
Flagstaff will play the winner of Southern California and Northern California -- both of whom Flagstaff beat -- on Thursday at noon. If they win that game, they will play the same night at 6 p.m. in the West Region championship game.
Flagstaff has used two pitchers so far in regional, with Schmitz pitching against the two California teams and Baca against Nevada. Wilson said there is a high probability that both pitchers will be used in the potential doubleheader on Thursday.
The final day of the tournament will be different than what has been done in the past, as the final day becomes sudden-death, single-elimination regardless of record.