When Paige Murch pitches well, Needles’ softball team has to be prepared to make plenty of plays on defense.
On Saturday, the Mustangs were more than ready.
Backed by a sparkling defense, Murch tossed a three-hit shutout on just 62 pitches and belted two home runs, including a three-run walk-off homer in the fifth inning, to lead the Mustangs to an 11-0 victory over White Pine in the Class 2A state championship game at The Meadows.
“When we’re playing both sides of the game, we’re unstoppable, and they proved that today,” said Needles coach Abby Chandler. “Leaders show up like Paige did this weekend. She’s a leader, and she proved it today. She has been our rock.”
Murch, a senior, got eight of the 15 outs on ground balls and faced just two batters more than the minimum.
“I was working a lot of low and inside, and trying to get up on them in the count,” said Murch. “My go-to pitch is my drop ball, and that’s what was working for us today.”
Mandy Zubiate opened a four-run rally for Needles (25-6-2) in the second inning off Bobcats’ starter Jessie Leyba with an RBI single, followed by a run from Avion Jackson on a throwing error at the plate, an RBI single by Kobrea Phillips, and a sacrifice fly by Murch.
The Mustangs added four more runs in the fourth inning, keyed by an run-scoring bloop double down the third baseline from Charley Andrews, and a two-run home run to left by Murch.
Phillips earned a one-out walk in the fifth inning, followed by a single to center field from Andrews to set the stage for Much, who sent one sailing over the wall in right-center to clinch the Mustangs’ second title in three years.
“I wanted to be patient, see the ball, and drive it,” said Murch. “I was looking for anything in my zone, and there it was — perfect.”
The Bobcats (28-6) ran themselves out of the third inning when Nikki Whittaker tried to score from third on Mia Kemmler’s fly out. Whittaker raced back to third base having not tagged up on the fly out.
The Mustangs appealed the play, and Whittaker was called out for not re-touching home plate on her way back to third, ending the inning.
Kemmler took a home run away from Murch early in the game with a wonderful diving catch over the left-field fence.
Andrews finished 4-for-4 with a double and two runs for Needles.
Eva Kingston, Haley Norton and Whittaker supplied the Bobcats’ three hits.