Valley Christian never got going in the Division IV state softball tournament last season, bowing out in the first round. The Lady Trojans have two wins this time around and are finding they get tougher as they go.
Sophomore pitcher Mara Kemmer did what she does best -- get the strikeout -- to get out of sixth-inning jam Friday afternoon as No. 9 Valley Christian staved off No. 8 Valley Union, 6-5, in the second round of the tournament at Rose Mofford Softball Complex.
Valley Christian (18-10) gets its stiffest test yet Saturday May 10 when it takes on No. 1 seed Arizona Lutheran at 9:30 a.m. at Rose Mofford. Arizona Lutheran advanced topping No. 17 Antelope, 7-0. Valley Union, which drew a first-round bye, finished the season 18-8. Valley Christian won its first-round game, 10-0, over Joseph City.
"We needed the strikeouts there at the end," Valley Christiian coach Jenni La Blanc said. "I liked the way we chipped away during the game getting a run here and there. We do have to cut down on the errors.... We're happy to go forward."
Valley Christian never trailed and scored at least one run in five of the seven innings. Hailey Heeringa's sacrifice fly in the top of the first made it 1-0, but Valley Union answered on a two-out double by its hitting star in the game -- cleanup batter Katelyn Landwerlen.
Kemmer singled in the tie-breaking run in the second to put VC up for good, 2-1. The Lady Trojans added two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth and were cruising with a 5-1 lead as Kemmer piled up nine Ks in the first four innings.
Valley Christian, which committed five errors, made two in succession in the fifth after Kemmer notched her 10th strikeout. Landwerlen made VC pay ripping a two-run double to left center making it 5-3.
VC tacked on what proved to be an important sixth run in its half of the sixth as Kemmer reached on a fielder's choice, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Tatum France. The bottom of the sixth looked for a few moments like VC would unravel.
Valley Union loaded the bases with no outs on an error, infield hit and walk. Leadoff hitter Jessica Garcia tthen rolled a two-run single down the third-base line and the lead was just 6-5. Kemmer stayed composed and fanned the next two batters. It was decision time, now, with runners at second and third and Landwerlen coming to bat.
"We talked about it and decided to pitch to her, but not give her anything to hit," La Blanc said. Landwerlen swung at a couple borderline pitches and the count went to 3-2.
"I wasn't going to throw a strike," Kemmer said. "It was away out of the zone. She didn't swing."
Kemmer ended the threat striking out opposing pitcher Yesenia Gamez on three pitches. Kemmer tossed a 1-2-3 seventh and fanned the final two hitters to complete her 15-strkeout outing. Kemmer and France had two hits apiece for Valley Christian.