MISSOULA, Mont. - Sunday's 18-U state championship game in Missoula between the Montana Avalanche and the Electric City Heat was as close as they come. The pitching duel between Morgan Ray and Quinn Hartman kept both teams out of the score column until extra innings.
"It was really tough, it was a really good game," said Ray after the contest. "I mean it was a long game and it was just a battle back-and-forth every single inning."
In the bottom of the ninth, it was the Avalanche who finally chalked up the first and only run of the game. Dani Walker's single into left center would send Sami Kinzie in from second base for the walk-off victory 1-0 the final.
"I was thinking I'm due right now and I'm ready to hit this ball and if I do we're going to win it, said Walker. "So I was like, alright give me something I can drive and I did, so it felt great. I saw that she was scoring and I just threw my hands in the air because I knew that we just won."
It wasn't the only big hit of the tournament for Walker. The Deer Lodge native also homered in a 2-1 victory on Saturday, a fitting end to her prep career in Montana. Walker will spend the next four years on the diamond competing for the inaugural Montana Grizzly program as their first ever in-state signee.
"I hadn't won state before so this was really special and a lot of the girls were like 'let's do it for Dans,'" said Walker. "It feels great. I didn't know what it felt like, but now I see what I've been fighting for all my life."
Besides Walker's timely offense, it's hard to put a value on her defensive contributions after catching all 25 innings in 90-plus degree heat.
"She's our only catcher and she played so hard this whole time. She didn't let one dropped ball go by her," said Ray.
"A lot of water and a lot of years doing it," explained Walker. "I mean, I've been doing this forever and I always have the gear on, so I'm used to the heat."
And if Walker was not your tournament MVP, then the only other option would be pitcher Morgan Ray. The Frenchtown ace threw all 25 innings for her team allowing only a single run to score.
"She's phenomenal, Morgan does a great job. She's a great competitor and she can just pitch out of her mind," said Walker. "I'm so proud and glad to be playing on her team. She just brought it all the way to the last inning from the very first pitch of this tournament."
"The heat is really easy to pitch in and your arm stays warm, but really it's just the fact that we can win the state championship," said Ray. "I played for my team, and we all played together. It was awesome."
The Avalanche had little time to celebrate their title; the team flew out Monday morning to the TCS Open Western World Series in San Diego which starts up with games Tuesday and runs through Saturday.