Kimball, Apollo softball continue stellar start, beat Tigard
Through the conclusion of non-league play, the surprise of the Class 6A softball classification could very well be Sunset.
On Tuesday, playing perhaps its best non-league foe to date in Tigard, the Apollos put forth their most complete game of the season.
Getting a great outing from sophomore pitcher Grace Kimball in the circle and clutch hitting at the plate from their continually confident lineup, Sunset ended its non-league half of the schedule on a high, beating the Tigers 3-0 at Sunset High School.
"I've always liked how we've come at it as the underdogs because everyone doesn't think we're this good," Kimball said. "We do have confidence now, but we also stay humble. We don't get too high or too low. We're figuring out the perfect in-between of staying within ourselves and not getting too confident. It's worked really well so far, so I hope we stay that way."
"Sunset played really well," Tigard sophomore catcher Emily Paulson said. "(Kimball) did a fantastic job of hitting her spots and their defense made some great plays. We made a couple of minor mistakes that we can fix in practice. We'll bounce back, work more on communication on defense and know what we can do better."
Tigard (6-1 overall) suffered its first loss of the season in a highly competitive contest in which both Kimball and Tiger senior pitcher Ashley Davis took turns starring in the pitching spotlight and swapping zeroes on the scoreboard. Davis sat down six consecutive hitters in the second and third innings, striking out four straight Apollos at one point.
Each team's defense was superb. Neither side blinked until the bottom half of the fourth when Sunset scratched across a run to go up 1-0 on a two-out Lainey Weir RBI single. That game-breaking score, however, was preceded by arguably the defensive play of the afternoon. Sunset shortstop Abby Wingo slapped an opposite-field shot to left and winged it around the bags into a sliding feet-first triple to lead off the fourth. Sunset junior Kendra Knapp, trying to get Wingo across in any possible fashion, hit a hard grounder to right to Tigard first baseman Caroline Riggs, who fielded the ball and flicked back to Paulson protecting the plate who slapped the tag on the going-on-contact Wingo for the bang-bang, run-saving out.
"It was one of first plays at home (plate) this season, so that was pretty cool," Paulson said with a smile. "We practice that all the time with live runners, so it was great to fulfill that in a game."
Paulson, guarding the dish from the left side of the batter's box, caught the ball with her back to the oncoming Wingo, but still had the presence of mind to pivot around quickly and swipe the Seton Hall commit on the back.
"I had to catch the ball first because sometimes I try to tag first before I have the ball," Paulson noted. "I had to be quick and get (the tag) down as fast I could. I thought that got the momentum on our side."
Wingo, who went 3-for-3 on the day with two extra-base hits, started to put Sunset's offense in motion with her triple in the fourth. Sunset sophomore Mikaela Byrnes added an RBI single in the sixth and senior second baseman Sydney Rusin's sacrifice fly extended the Apollos' lead to 3-0.
"Abby's triple really put a fire under everyone," Kimball said. "Once one person starts hitting, the energy in the dugout goes up. And our whole lineup is so solid. I trust everyone from one-through-nine. Everyone can produce. Once we saw (Davis) the first time, we adjusted and came out hard."
Tigard put runners on first and second in the second and third innings with Riggs and Madison Hoover reaching base, but couldn't get to Kimball and the Apollos early. From there, the sophomore retired 12 of the next 13 hitters she faced. Kimball struck out six and allowed just three hits.
"I never really look at a batter's face when they step into the box because I don't want to know who it is, I just want to pitch my way," Kimball said. "I can't change for whoever is up there. This tournament really helped me find my rhythm and a pattern. Once I get on a roll, I just keep going. Every pitch I was walking around the mound and work really quick. I just want to keep rolling with whatever is working."
Still young and maturing with only two seniors on the roster, Sunset has played outstanding softball through the early spring. The Apollos at 8-1 overall just 10 games into the year are already two wins away from matching last season's win total. Sunset's only loss so far came to Tualatin, a perennial state title contender, in a nail-biting, 5-4 decision on Monday. Sunset has skyrocketed to No. 2 in the 6A power rankings thanks to their success against challenging preseason opponents
"Those teams are as good as any we see in the Metro League and Metro is really strong," Kimball said. "These were good games to test us. It shows that we're not going to give up and we're always going to put up a fight no matter who we're playing, who they have on their team and where they're going (to play college ball). We don't care. We're going to come out and play our softball and give it a fight."
After finishing 10-16 overall, Sunset didn't make the postseason following an 8-5 loss to David Douglas in 2017. But the way Sunset looks now going into Metro there's little reason to doubt the Apollos can make a run at one of the conference's top-four automatic playoff spots.
"Every game it hasn't been just one person hitting a home run and winning it for us, it's all of us coming together and winning it as a team, which is really cool to see," Kimball said. "Seeing everyone have that fight at the beginning of the season is really good because it's only going to get stronger from here."