Douglas senior infielder Katie Kluever has been a spark plug atop the Tiger softball team’s lineup all season.
Matter of fact, base hits and wreaking havoc on the base paths have pretty much defined her varsity career at Douglas.
So as she stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded trailing 4-3 in the regional semifinal game Thursday afternoon, a nice line drive base hit was all she was looking for.
She got so much more.
Kluever smacked a grand slam home run — the first of her varsity career — against Damonte standout Kalynn Paque, providing what would stand as the game-winning hit for Douglas as the Tigers upended the defending regional champions 7-5 at Bishop Manogue High School.
“I was just telling myself to stay calm, that I could do this,” Kluever said. “All I wanted was a base hit. When I saw the ball headed out, I was like, ‘Yes, keep going.’”
After the Tigers sealed up the upset win, the players gathered around a cell phone and called head coach Andy Mitchell, who is on the East Coast for his daughter’s college graduation this weekend. They delivered the news en masse with a loud cheer.
It was Damonte’s first loss to a Northern Nevada team this year.
The win moved Douglas into Saturday’s regional championship round, which was played after The R-C’s press deadline. Results are in today’s Nevada Appeal and online at recordcourier.com.
Douglas needs just one win to clinch its first regional title since 2004. It would have to be beaten twice to be eliminated.
The Tigers were particularly strong against Damonte’s Paque, who has been without question the area’s top pitcher this season. Douglas belted three home runs and worked deep into the count during a number of key at-bats.
“Our approach coming in was just to relax and look for those base hits,” Douglas assistant Christina Harper said. “We weren’t looking for the home runs. We just wanted to get on base and we kept emphasizing that if they got out, or struck out, someone behind you would step up.
“These girls just represent that team aspect. They pick each other up and believe in each other.”
Not to be lost in the effort was yet another exceptional outing in the circle from sophomore ace pitcher Kali Sargent, who struck out four, walked two and allowed just two earned runs.
So far in this tournament, she has 21 strikeouts in three complete games, and has pitched Douglas back from early deficits on each occasion.
“I just play my own game and know that I have a good defense behind me,” she said.
The teams went scoreless through the first two innings on Thursday before freshman Makayla Shaver belted a line-drive over the fence in right field to give Douglas a 1-0 lead.
Kluever singled with one out in the inning and later stole second. With two outs, Illiana Brown blasted a two-run home run to make it 3-0.
Damonte came right back in the bottom of the third, leading the inning off with a single from Morgan Greene. Adelle Oaks reached on an error that allowed Greene to score.
Oaks later stole third and scored on a ground out to second and Paque tied the game up with a home run to left with two outs.
Still with two outs, Briley Brewer reached on an error, moving to second on the play and Kerrigan Travens singled Brewer home for the 4-3 lead.
The top of the fourth proved to be the game-changer for Douglas.
Kaitlyn Bowman hit a one-out single, but a strikeout quickly put Paque within an out of ending the inning.
Shaver stepped to the plate and battled through a nine-pitch at-bat, which she started out down 0-2, to draw a walk.
Maddie Park then translated an eight-pitch at-bat into a walk to load the bases. That stretched Paque to 36 pitches in the inning.
Kluever took the 38th for the grand slam.
“All year long, we’ve felt we have that strong lineup one through nine,” Harper said. “We don’t really have a weak spot, it’s just a matter of them staying relaxed.”
Kluever and Brown each finished with two home runs for Douglas and Leonna Mortimer, Bowman and Shaver each had one.
Damonte managed to draw closer with a run in the bottom of the sixth, but Douglas shut the door from there.