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OLYMPIC LEAGUE SOFTBALL- Valley Christian rallies late but Whittier Christian runs away in final two innings

April 24, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Coming into this season, the acronym given by Valley Christian High head coach Chet Kingery was WIN, which means ‘what is necessary’. With a limited number of games on the schedule, plus the rains of February and March wreaking havoc on everyone, getting to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs was more challenging for V.C.

The Defenders hosted Olympic League favorites Whittier Christian High last Thursday and with four games remaining in the regular season, time was running out for V.C. to grab third place and the final automatic berth to the postseason. An early 4-0 hole was countered with a three-run bottom of the fifth inning before the Heralds ran away with the game, scoring four times in the top of the sixth and two more in the last inning for a 10-5 win. Coupled with a 14-2 loss the next day, V.C. fell to 5-5 overall, 3-3 in league action.

“We knew we were going to have to ride [junior pitcher] Bella [Bulthuis this season],” said Kingery. “To us, league is necessary. I gave them enough games to prepare themselves for league to keep Bella healthy because league is daunting. It’s two games a week for one pitcher and the weather was getting into 90 degrees in the next couple of weeks, so we had to save Bella for league.”

The game had the makings of getting away from V.C. through the first three and a half innings as Whittier Christian had a 3-0 lead, but stranded six runners on base, including two at third base. The Heralds collected three hits in the first inning but got one run as Bulthuis got Jailyn Paderez to ground out and Bobbie Lozano to fly out to end the threat with two runners on.

In the next inning, Olivia Wise was hit by a pitch with one out, moved to second on a groundout and to third on a wild pitch before scoring on a double from Aleena Garcia. In the fourth, a two-out, unearned run plated Victoria Hinostro to make it 3-0 and one inning later, Sofia Hernandez reached on a walk, stole two bases and scored on a base hit from Paderez.

“Bella made some quality pitches with runners in scoring position, which we got some missed hits that helped us get out of those jams,” said Kingery. “The defense picked her up and made some really good plays. They all fought today. We’re scrappy; as long as that ball is in play, we’re going to fight and we’re going to throw punches at them.”

But the Defenders, who had a runner reach base in each of the first four frames, began their rally in the bottom of the fifth when Riley Laygo walked sophomore left fielder Zoee Barrett, gave up a single to junior second baseman Julia Gonzales and freshman right fielder Choyce Chambers was safe on an error. One out later, sophomore shortstop Britton Brown smashed what appeared to be a grand slam over the left field fence. But Chambers never touched home plate, was ruled out and V.C. had to settle for the three runs.

“It’s just a mistake and they caught it,” said Kingery. “That could have been 4-4 and now you coach differently; you call pitches differently and girls fight differently after that.

“With the runners stranded, I know my lineup; we’re good and we’re going to swing the bat well,” he later added. “We’re going to put balls in play and make them play catch. It’s only a matter of time before that ball finds a hole and gets through and we start scoring runs. Once we score runs, it’s a disease; it spreads and we start banging, as you saw today.”

In the sixth inning, the Heralds loaded the bases with none out, sent eight batters to the plate and scored four unearned runs to distance themselves for good. Even with Whittier Christian scoring its last two runs in the seventh, the Defenders made things interesting in their last ups. With two outs. Chambers singled to center and came home on a double to the left field gap from freshman catcher Peyton Kingery. Brown reached on an error with Kingery scoring and sophomore first baseman Kayla Martin also was safe on an error before Laygo struck out freshman third baseman Brianna Ramirez to end the game.

Peyton Kingery collected a pair of hits while five other players got the other V.C. hits. But the story continues to be the work put in by Bulthuis, who tossed 116 pitches. Of the 42 batters she faced,15 put the ball in play on the first pitch and another seven connected on the second pitch.

This season, Bulthuis has gone the distance in seven of the 10 games and worked 87 percent of the innings the team has played.

“She’s a rockstar,” said Kingery. “Bella has exceeded our expectations as being the ace of the staff and the only pitcher on the staff pretty much. She has kept us in a lot of games and there’s nothing more I can say about her.

Entering the last week of the regular season, the Defenders, ranked fifth in Division 6, were in third place with a pair of games against fourth place Heritage Christian High, which had a 1-3 league mark. The two played this past Monday with V.C coming away with an emphatic 16-6 win, all but locking up at least third place. The second game would be this past Wednesday, but in between the two, Heritage Christian was scheduled to host Whittier Christian and a loss to the Heralds would knock Heritage Christian out of playoff contention with six losses.  

“Our backs are against the wall, but with this team, I believe anything is possible with them,” said Kingery. “We just keep fighting until the final ball is gone in the last game.”