For ZooTown All-Stars manager Dennis Staves and coach Tim Gray, retirement will have to wait at least another five games.
ZooTown advanced to the Senior League Softball World Series for the fourth year in a row by beating Southern California, 13-3, in the West region final on Tuesday. It was their second win of the day, and their second win in knockout play against a team that beat them in pool play.
“All I can say is wow. That was sweet,” Staves said, before getting a bucket of water dumped on him by Shaina Allen and Kate Shipley.
“That’s the reason you do it,” he continued after a few moments. “Not for the shower, but the way they are. They’re a bunch of characters. They’re fun to coach, fun to be around. It’s unreal.”
At 9-2, ZooTown is the first team to win the Senior League Softball West Regional with more than one loss since 2008, when champion Southern California went 6-2.
ZooTown scored the final 10 runs after being tied to clinch its spot at the World Series, which is scheduled July 31-Aug. 6 in Lower Sussex, Delaware.
Brooklyn Weisgram led all players with four RBIs, and Taylor Brinkman scored a team-high three runs. Eight of the nine batters had at least two hits, and eight of the nine scored at least one run.
Starting pitcher Amber Hickethier allowed two hits and no runs after assistant coach Andrea Walt took over pitch-calling duties when Southern California tied the game, 3-3, in the third inning. The selection of changeups and off-speed pitches and the location at the far edge of the plate kept Southern California off balance.
“To know this could be their last time coaching, it made us push harder and harder,” said Hickethier, who started and won all three off the playoff games. “We tried to make them proud and make it memorable. That’s what I was thinking about.”
Staves and Gray told the team after Tuesday’s semifinal win that the nightcap could be their final game since they were thinking about retiring after this year. Some players said they knew of their coaches’ intentions from past talks, so they were determined since Monday’s quarterfinal to win out.
“We talked about it a little bit as a team,” said Jalen Cooper, who hit a walk-off two-run home run to end the game by run rule in five innings. “It’s all in the back of our heads. We knew we had to play our hearts out, not just for them, but for all of us to represent.”
The team had also been motivated by their opportunity to beat Oregon in the semifinal and Southern California in the final after losing to both in pool play. ZooTown fell 10-6 to Southern California in the first game of the tournament, and lost 2-1 to Oregon in eight innings on the second day.
“I would hate for (the coaches) to end on a loss, so this was a little for them to keep them coaching a couple more games,” said Brinkman, whose two-run home run put ZooTown up 9-3 in the fourth. “We also wanted to get back at this team for beating us earlier in the tournament. So it feels great to get a win.”
ZooTown beat Oregon 1-0 earlier in the day in a semifinal. Far from the 18 hits against Southern California, ZooTown only got one hit off Oregon, but it did the damage.
The difference in the offense was Southern California pitcher Maritza Arroyo hadn’t been throwing as fast as Oregon pitcher Janell Kilborn, several players said.
Makenna Liechty broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the sixth inning with a two-out double. Her liner grazed the top of the glove of the third baseman, who was playing in with Makennah Hewitt on third.
Hewitt had reached on an error on her leadoff bunt and advanced to second on the errant throw. She moved to third on a passed ball with Liechty at the plate.
Hickethier struck out nine batters and held Oregon to two hits in seven shutout innings. Oregon didn’t advance a runner past second base.
Billings, the Montana state champion, lost 18-8 to Southern California in the second semifinal on Tuesday. A seven-run fourth and eight-run sixth put the game out of reach.