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Bonney Lake utilizes wild final-inning flurry to stun Peninsula, reach Class 3A softball semifinals

Panthers rally for three runs, including back-to-back home runs, to sun Alli Kimball and the Seahawks, 3-2; Walla Walla, Lake Washington and Roosevelt all advance
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LACEY - Bonney Lake High School’s quarterfinal game with Peninsula in the Class 3A state softball tournament Friday night at the Regional Athletic Complex was a rematch of its bi-district championship game with the Seahawks a week ago.

For six innings, the story was the same:

Peninsula’s junior right hander Alli Kimball was in charge, keeping all but two Panthers off the bases, not allowing a ball to be hit on the fly to the outfield. Her third inning home run seemed to be all the offense Peninsula would need to move into the state semifinals.

Then came a seventh inning that had to be seen to be believed and even then some fans likely walked away doubting reality. When it was over, Bonney Lake had a 3-2 victory and a date in semifinals Saturday against top-seeded Walla Walla.

Bonney Lake centerfielder Kyla Cross lined a single to left and reached second when Grace Estabrook bobbled the ball before throwing it back in. Bella Carazo, who got the pitching win after striking out eight and scattering eight hits, took a called third strike.

Up came Bella Jones, who had hit the ball hard twice already, lining out to first and singling up the middle. This time, she drove an 0-2 pitch far over the center field fence, putting the Panthers (22-3) ahead to stay, 2-1.

"Bella’s been our hottest hitter since playoffs started," Bonney Lake softball coach Kate Zender said. "She was kind of in a slump at the end of the regular season but has really just stepped it up to get us into rallies. She did it again today."

Jones wore the numeral 4 in eye black on her face in memory of one of the girls killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

"Every at bat, I took a deep breath because I wanted to play for her," she said. "I felt emotional about it."

Just as they had when Ayrianna Pollard and Lauryn Lee hit home runs late in the 5-2 bi-district championship loss to Kimball and the Seahawks (21-2), the Panthers made it back-to back homers when, again with two strikes on her, Alissa Hermansen cleared the centerfield fence, extending the lead to 3-1.

"We talk about discipline and having each other’s back," Zender said. "Right after Bella’s home run, I went to Alissa and I said ‘hey, the pressure’s now on them, relax and look for one to drive.’ She delivered."

But Peninsula wasn’t giving up.

Hailey Ruckle, who had to watch Jones and Hermansen’s blasts soar over her head in center field on their way out of the park, planted one there herself, making it 3-2 with nobody out.

"That rolled it back to their (Nos.) 1-2-3 hitters, so I definitely got nervous there," Zender said.

Leadoff batter Aislinn O’Reilly singled to the right of second and Lexani Perez came in to run for her. Malia Coit grounded a single just inside the left field line and the winning run was aboard for the Seahawks with nobody out. Kimball drew a four-pitch walk.

Four more pitches and Peninsula’s comeback crashed and burned on a play that may have happened somewhere before, but surely not too many times.

Glory Estabrook launched a towering fly toward Bonney Lake left fielder Kendell Thomas in foul territory. The Panthers bench and their fans yelled for Thomas to let it drop, lest Perez tag and score if she snagged the ball. She caught it and Perez headed home – without having tagged up.

Thomas got the ball to Jones via a relay from shortstop Jess Eaton and the umpires ruled Perez out for her early start. Seeing a bit of a Bonney Lake celebration taking place, Coit dashed for third and was tagged out. A game ending triple play on a 190-foot foul fly.

Said Jones, "I’ve never been in a game like that. I’ve always hoped for one. When they loaded the bases it was super stressful, but I knew we could do it."

"This shows us that we have the ability to make it all the way," Zender said. "Beating Peninsula means we have it in us. We could have seen them in the championship game if the bracket was different."