Update: Blaine softball beat the Riverside Rams 3-1 at the 1A state tournament in Richland May 26. Read more here.
Last year, Blaine girls varsity softball season ended with a 7-6 loss to the Mount Baker Mountaineers in the third round of the 1A district 1/2 consolation bracket. Mount Baker went on to beat the Lynden Christian Lyncs to advance to the 1A state tournament.
“We were knocking on the door,” head coach Sean Miller said after Blaine’s 2022 season. “And next year I think we’ll kick the door down.”
On May 20, the Lady Borderites won the 1A district 1/2 championship at Janicki Fields in Sedro-Woolley, after sophomore Shaylie Daniels stole home on a wild pitch to beat the Mountaineers 8-7. The title secured Blaine a top-four seed in the 1A state championship tournament in Richland May 25-27 and more than justified its coach.
“We’re district champions, bi-district champions here. That’s unbelievable,” an emotional Miller said after the game Saturday. “I’m so happy for these kids.”
It’s Blaine’s first softball district championship. The last time Blaine softball went to state was in 2009.
Blaine came into the championship game favorites, but Mount Baker made it a contest. The Lady Borderites took an early lead, scoring in the first two innings, with RBIs from junior Jordyn Vezzetti and senior MaKenna Wright. Mount Baker pushed a run in at the top of the third inning after multiple walks, but Blaine responded. Freshman Mesa Puls and Daniels each pushed in a run. After a scoreless fourth inning, Blaine’s standout pitcher Emersyn Bakker began to struggle and was replaced by senior Piper Nissen.
Miller said Bakker’s exhaustion was due to heat and possibly the team’s overreliance on her.
“It’s daunting. When you think about it, we’ve put so much emphasis on [Bakker], she’s been the center of what we’re doing,” he said. “And Piper got to step in today and got the win. So that was good for her. It was good for her confidence, because we’re going to need her over there at state.”
The Mountaineers tied up the game at 5’s going into the bottom of the fifth. Vezzetti made it 7-5 with a two-run RBI double. Mount Baker tied it up again with a two-run homerun in the top of the sixth, and Blaine couldn’t respond. Two pop-outs and a strikeout from Baker in the seventh gave Blaine the chance to win it. With two outs and bases loaded, Bakker stepped up to the plate. The count was 2-2 when a deflected, wild pitch went into the dirt and Miller sent Daniels home from third. She slid into home base, winning the game 8-7. The Blaine fans and bench erupted.
“Unbelievable,” Miller said after the game. “Mount Baker played us really well.”
The team finished the game with 14 hits. Daniels had four hits in four at-bats on the day. Both Vezzetti and Wright had a RBI single and double each.
Blaine beat the Meridian Trojans 6-5 and mercy-ruled the Lynden Christian Lyncs 13-0 on the first day, May 18, to get to the bi-district championship. The Lyncs fought back through the consolation bracket to qualify for state, beating Mount Baker 13-2 May 20.
Miller and his assistant coach and daughter Riley Miller took over the Blaine program in 2019. Miller said they had 17 players their first year and won three games. The program now has two teams, and the varsity team had an 18-2 overall record before the playoffs. Miller credits Riley for the team’s cohesiveness.
“She’s the person that really bonded these kids and brought them all together,” Miller said. “She has so much passion for the game. I’m so thankful to have her as my assistant.”
Riley graduated from Blaine High School in 2016 and played varsity softball all four years. She started coaching the current junior class, which consists of Bakker, Vezzetti and others, when they were in sixth grade.
Riley said the championship game was very similar to a game earlier this season in Montesano against Bellevue Christian High School, which the girls won 13-12. She said she had full belief her girls would find a win Saturday.
“I really didn’t have any doubt that they would pull it off,” Riley said.
The state tournament is at Columbia Playfields in Richland. The Lady Borderites will play their first game at 1 p.m. Friday, May 26 against the winner of No. 5 Riverside and No. 12 Kiona Benton. As the fourth seed, the girls could meet No. 1 seed Montesano, who they lost to 4-1 earlier this season, in the semifinal.
Miller said they’ll use it to their advantage.
“We’re going to take the mentality of the underdog and come out with a chip on our shoulder,” he said.
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