Halloween champs: Albany-Berkeley Sting is scary good

The Under 12 Albany-Berkeley softball team delivered a thrilling back-from-the grave finish at the Monster Bash Classic tournament

By Mark Galbraith

The Albany-Berkeley Girls Softball League’s 12U team, Sting, continues its victorious streak. You may remember the team from the article Michael Lewis wrote for Berkeleyside last year. We’ve been following their progress. Here’s the latest installment:

The Under 12 Albany-Berkeley Sting completed their Fall season by winning this past weekend’s Monster Bash Classic tournament with a thrilling back-from-the grave finish.

Like all good nail-biters, this story starts on a bright, sunny day. On Saturday, Sting got into the Halloween spirit by taking the field in Crayola-inspired Technicolor uniforms, designed by Berkeley’s own budding activewear designer, Katie Kaneko. (At the time of this story’s submission, there was no confirmation if Ms. Kaneko intends to expand upon her Sting designs to create a complete Fall collection.)

Sting’s opener against the Salinas Storm was a well-played contest between two evenly matched teams. Pitcher Quinn Lewis and sharp Sting defense kept the Storm’s potent bats in check for much of the game.

Claire Kaneko and Grace Rusin led the offense back from an early deficit. Down by a run, and with time running out, Tara Steckler, Adi Saaf, and Isabel Lavrov strung together three singles to tie the score, 5-5. Griffin Campbell then singled to score Lavrov for what appeared to be the go-ahead win.  The run, however, was wiped off the board with a questionable runner interference ruling following the opposing coaches’ complaints.  No matter, as the game went into an extra frame. Steckler again ignited Sting with a lead-off single, and hustled to second on an overthrow. Lavrov followed up with a single up the middle for a 6-5 Sting walk-off victory.

The second game was against the NorCal Extreme of Castro Valley. Grace Rusin continued her hot hitting, and Maeve Gallagher and Amelia Galbraith both delivered clutch hitting and solid defense from the outfield to propel Sting to a 9-0 lead. The game was really never in doubt, as pitcher Robyn Wampler pitched a one-hit, no-walk gem to tame the Extreme.

The final game on Saturday was the first Sting played under the lights this season. The Milpitas Renegades provided the competition while a waxing moon supplemented the park’s lights beyond rightfield.

Sting got off to a fast start, staking an 8-0 lead which seemed to be plenty, with Hannah Lane Goldstein pitching well for the Sting.

In the third inning, however, a flock of what some spectators swore were bats descended upon the park, seemingly lifting the spirits of the lifeless Renegades. Milpitas rallied for five runs to make it an 8-5 contest before Sting put them away for the evening, and set themselves up for an exciting Sunday.

On Sunday morning, Sting maintained their hot hitting and cruised to a 10-2 victory and a semifinal date with the host team Fremont Flyers.

This proved to be yet another evenly matched, hard fought contest. Griffin Campbell started things out by doubling home lead-off batter Isabel Lavrov for a 1-0 lead. Zinnia Thewlis made a great grab in left to keep the Flyers from answering with more than two in their half.

As the sun set, stadium lights came on, and Game 4 of the World Series was heating up, Fremont got their considerable hometown contingency energized by tacking on three more to begin pulling away.  Sting battled back to make it 5-4 entering the top half of the last inning.  Facing elimination, Robyn Wampler, Isabel Lavrov and Adi Saaf strung together singles to load the bases for Griffin Campbell.  Griffin then worked a game-tying walk.  Erin Shurtz, who had previously tripled, drove in the go-ahead run with a single. Pitcher, Robyn Wampler then clipped the wings of the Flyers, ending the contest with an emphatic strikeout, and vaulting Sting to the Championship Game with a 6-5 victory.

In the Championship Game, the girls from Albany-Berkeley faced off with the Strikkers (not a typo) from San Jose who were fundamentally sound, considerably coached and fired up. The Strikkers took an early 3-0 lead on a rare Sting defensive break-down which turned an unassuming sacrifice bunt into a three-run “home run.” The lead was extended to 5-1 through six innings, as the Strikker pitcher and the inventive “Cardinal” and “Opposite of Cardinal” defense formations behind rendered the Sting bats lifeless.

As they started the bottom of the seventh and final inning, the Strikkers and their fans could sense victory and were ready to close the lid on the proverbial coffin. The first two nails were pounded in as the Strikkers retired the Sting’s lead-off batters. There were two outs, nobody on, and admittedly the attention of some of the less-focused Sting faithful had already turned to the Giants who had just completed an unimaginable championship run of their own in Detroit.

Robyn Wampler, however, provided a glimmer of hope by hitting a single. Zinnia Thewlis followed with a single of her own.  Grace Rusin’s RBI single drew everyone’s attention back to this game, including the now-nervous Strikker defense.  Sting was pushing back the lid.  Adi Saaf followed an Isabel Lavrov walk with a two-run single to make the score 5 to 4, and the blood pressure of those from San Jose 170 over 100.

Then, Griffin Campbell shot a ground ball up the first base line, and what was inconceivable only five minutes earlier came (back) to life as both Lavrov and then a sliding Saaf came home to snatch the game from the jaws of defeat, and take the tournament with a phoenix-like 6-5 win!

Congratulations to coaches Jenna Best, Jolene Henderson, Lori Saaf, and David Wampler, plus the many rally hat-wearing Sting faithful.

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