Three-victory day yields berth in state tournament for Gators

Green Valley’s softball team was getting awfully tired of being a bridesmaid.

The Gators advanced to the Sunrise Region final in 2008 and 2009, and emerged with two runner-up finishes and no state tournament berths.

They regarded that possibility as unacceptable Friday.

Forced to win three games at Majestic Park, the Gators did just that, defeating Foothill 4-1 before sweeping winners’ bracket finalist Liberty 11-2 and 8-2 to win the Sunrise title.

Green Valley (29-7) will represent the Sunrise at next week’s state tournament in Reno in its first appearance at state since 2003. The Gators will open the tournament against the Northern Region runner-up at noon May 21 at UNR’s Christina Hixon Field.

“This started way back in September,” Green Valley coach Lauren Taylor said. “We had one goal and that was to get to Reno. I don’t think anybody could have handled going home in second place again.”

The Gators won’t have to, largely thanks to the pitching of senior Desiree Laswell. She threw complete games in the opener against Foothill and the first game against Liberty, then struck out six in three innings of relief in the finale.

“She just didn’t want to come out,” said Taylor, who opted to go with Laswell instead of four-year starter Alicia Firelein in the first two games.

“After last night’s game (an 8-5 loss to Liberty in the winners’ bracket final), we sat down and had to think with our heads instead of our hearts,” Taylor said.

Laswell was up to the task, striking out 23 in 17 innings. She allowed eight hits all day and finished strong, striking out two batters each in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings of the final game.

“I just wanted to do it for my team so we could head up to Reno,” Laswell said. “All the seniors really wanted this. We put in the hard work and hours to get it done.”

In the finale, Firelein’s two-out RBI double brought home Shelby Vickers to give Green Valley a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Ali Bodnar’s two-run single in the second made it 3-0, and Gators scored twice in the third on Liberty errors.

Firelein pitched well in the final game, allowing two unearned runs in four innings.

Carly Smith’s three-run homer in the sixth put the game out of reach.

“We didn’t do anything differently,” Taylor said. “The girls just knew that (Thursday night) wasn’t going to happen again. We had to hit the ball.”

Megan Patras was 2-for-4 with a double for Liberty.

A five-run second inning in the first game against the Patriots sent Green Valley on its way to the deciding game.

Bodnar smacked two solo home runs and drew three walks as the Gators scored in five of seven innings. Firelein went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, Vickers 2-for-5 with two RBIs.

Firelein struck out seven and surrendered only two hits.

“There was not a single player on our bench who didn’t want this with every single fiber of their being,” Taylor said.

■ Green Valley 4, Foothill 1 — Laswell hit a solo homer in a two-run second inning, and Firelein added a two-run blast in the third as the Gators eliminated nemesis Foothill (19-14).

Laswell allowed four hits and struck out 10, surrendering only an unearned run in the sixth inning to the team that beat Green Valley in the 2008 and 2009 Sunrise finals.

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