Kalei Watkins already was one of the top pitchers in the Division I-A Southern League.
The Sierra Vista sophomore went to work on her changeup last weekend and showed Monday that she has gotten even better.
Watkins tossed a four-hitter and struck out 10 to lead the Mountain Lions to a 7-2 win at Faith Lutheran in a battle for first place in the Sunset League.
“That was the best she has thrown her changeup,” Sierra Vista coach Keith Ulrich said. “She worked on it this weekend and got some extra pitches in. She tries to overpower people at times, but today I saw a really big maturation in her.”
Four of Watkins’ strikeouts came on two-strike changeups. The other six were the result of a moving fastball that gave the Crusaders fits.
Makena Martin’s sixth-inning single was the only ball Faith Lutheran pulled in fair territory off Watkins, who gave up 11 hits in the teams’ first meeting on March 23.
The Crusaders hit two balls up the middle. Every other ball put in play was hit the opposite way, the result of Watkins working the outer half of the plate and hitters being behind on the pitch.
“She was able to throw her changeup after a few fastballs to get them off-balance, and they weren’t sure what was coming,” Ulrich said. “That made her fastball even more effective. We were focusing on keeping the ball away, and she did a nice job placing her pitches.”
Samantha Jack’s slicing, opposite-field hit in the fourth inning that was misjudged into a two-run inside-the-park home run by Sierra Vista left fielder Brendee Ford was the only real blemish for Watkins.
Sierra Vista (10-5, 9-1 Sunset) scored twice in the first on two soft singles, a bunt single and two wild pitches, and Watkins never surrendered the lead.
Kira Felise scored from second on Harmony Dominguez’s sacrifice fly to right-center in the fourth inning to increase the lead to 3-0 before Jack brought Faith Lutheran (21-7, 8-2) within a run in the bottom of the inning.
Ford put the game out of reach in the seventh, drilling a 3-and-2 pitch to deep left for a two-out, three-run double. Madison Hiu followed with a double that scored Ford.
Taylor DeGuzman was 3-for-4 and Adrianna Somerville 2-for-4 for Sierra Vista, which leads Faith Lutheran and Spring Valley by one game with four league games left.
“We needed a win today,” Ulrich said. “But we have to keep playing with the same mentality the rest of the way. Just because we’re ahead today doesn’t guarantee us anything.”
Contact reporter Bartt Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5230.