Kalei Watkins did a lot of growing up in the pitcher’s circle Thursday.
Sierra Vista’s sophomore gained confidence for future outings in leading her team to a state tournament berth.
Watkins struck out 13 and worked out of jams in the fourth and sixth innings to guide the Mountain Lions to a 7-5 win over Faith Lutheran in the winners’ bracket final of the Division I-A Southern Region tournament at Faith Lutheran.
Sierra Vista (17-7) advances to the region final at 10 a.m. Saturday and is guaranteed a spot in the state tournament, which begins next Thursday.
“She’s our arm we can trust,” Sierra Vista coach Keith Ulrich said. “Some of the pitches she was throwing there, she was giving it everything she had. You heard her grunting and just leaving it all on the field today.”
Watkins struck out the final batter in each of the last two innings, each time stranding a runner in scoring position.
“I just went out and pitched like I know I can pitch,” Watkins said. “I was definitely hitting my spots better today, and I had my riseball working.”
Sierra Vista spotted Watkins a 4-0 lead after two innings on RBI singles by Harmony Dominguez in the first, and Madison Hiu, Adrianna Somerville and Sierra Martinez in the second.
Leading 4-2, the Mountain Lions scored three times in the bottom of the fifth with RBI singles by Hiu and Somerville, and a bases-loaded walk to Watkins to make it 7-2.
The Crusaders rallied with three runs in the top of the sixth.
Cheyenne Kidd led off with a single up the middle and later scored on a throwing error. Vanessa Valedez had a two-run single later in the inning.
With Valdez in scoring position, Watkins fanned Samantha Jack to end the Crusaders’ threat.
“Kalei was great but it was also a true team effort,” Ulrich said. “We knew we had to have girls step up, and we had it from four or more of them.
“We weren’t a one-girl team today. We made three goals this year: one was to win league, two was to get to state, and three was to win state. We’re a tough out for sure as it’s going to be tough to beat us twice in the state tournament next week I think.”
Somerville went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, and Brendee Ford, Taylor DeGuzman and Hiu each supplied two hits for the Mountain Lions.
Valdez was 3-for-4, and Kidd added two hits to lead Faith Lutheran (28-9), which will meet either Spring Valley or Boulder City for a berth in the region final and state tournament at 5 p.m. Friday at Faith Lutheran.
Spring Valley 5, Cheyenne 4 — Vivian Quiroz-Montano’s two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning lifted the Grizzlies by the Desert Shields in an elimination game.
Quiroz-Montano’s blast plated Mariah Ward with no outs in the bottom of the sixth after Cheyenne (17-15) had scored a run in the top of the inning to take a 4-3 lead.
Ward was 2-for-3 with a double, and Marlena Adras went 2-for-3 for Spring Valley (18-8), which will meet Boulder City (25-9) in an elimination game at 3 p.m. Friday at Faith Lutheran.
Michaela Hood tossed a two-hitter for the Grizzlies. She struck out eight, but walked seven.
Boulder City 2, Sunrise Mountain 1 — Charlene Masterson tossed a five-hitter and struck out 15 as the Eagles edged the Miners in an elimination game.
Masterson’s double in the bottom of the second inning scored Kylee Hamel and Alyssa Ybarra to give Boulder City the lead for good.
Sara Kinsey was 2-for-3 with an RBI for Sunrise Mountain (15-10).