WALLA WALLA — Riliey Cullip wasn’t in much of a mood to celebrate her perfect performance in the Wenatchee Valley College softball team’s doubleheader at Walla Walla on Friday.
Cullip went 3-for-3 and homered in both games, and shined defensively — she threw out a runner trying to steal third base in the second game. And she did it all while suffering from the flu.
“She’s sound asleep on the bus right now, sick as a dog,” Knights coach Shelly Pflugrath said after her team’s 12-1 and 12-9 victories. “It’s a testament to her. Most kids wouldn’t have played (in her situation). She goes out and has her best day of the season.”
WVC (32-3, 19-1) lowered its magic number to clinch its eighth straight Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges East Region championship with the sweep, but was tested in the second game by a Warriors squad (15-22, 9-11) that Pflugrath said is definitively better than its record would indicate.
After the Knights took a 5-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a Cullip grand slam, Walla Walla scored six runs in the third inning to take a 6-5 lead and chase Kirstie Thomas out of the circle.
WVC responded, however, scoring two runs in the fourth, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and two more in the seventh.
“We jumped out to a big lead, then took a couple innings off,” Pflugrath said. “The strike zone got small there for awhile; the umpire admitted it after the game. But we rallied back right away. The second game is always harder for whatever reason. But we had a good approach and a ton of confidence.
“We’re not going to shut every team out, but we’re proving here in the last few weeks that we don’t have to. One of the things that I told (the players) before the season started is that I know we’re going to have good pitching and defense, but if we play every game with the mindset that we have to score 10 runs to win, we’re going to be unbeatable, and we’ve seen that (mentality). We’re just not going to panic.”
Hailey Bator and Marie Beagle also hit home runs for the Knights in the second contest.
In the first game, WVC dominated thanks to a usually stellar pitching performance from Bator (five innings, one hit, nine strikeouts) and lots of offense. Becky Wall, Julia Rambo and Kinley Pope recorded doubles for the Knights.
“It’s a long trip to get down there, and we didn’t score until the third inning, but we didn’t get overwhelmed,” Pflugrath said. “When we talk about hitting, we talk about little adjustments and not wholesale changes — balls that you roll over the top of, if you let them get two inches deeper in the zone, you can hit them up the middle. That stuff is showing up right now. We’ve practiced it all year long and stuck with it.”
The sweep was especially sweet for WVC’s upperclassmen; the Knights were swept in Walla Walla a year ago.
“For the sophomores, it was nice to win down there,” Pflugrath said. “That was a miserable trip last year. We’re feeling much better today. I was happy with the way we played.”