We’re well into the early part of the softball season – hey, we’ve even had a few games snowed out as usual for March – so I want to get my weekly blog notebook started.
I’m calling it Triple Play because I plan to feature three teams or players each Thursday.
And as we get a little further into league play, I’ll try to keep you posted on some of the big upcoming games. That’s always a bit tricky, with the common rainout situations, but I’ll give it a shot.
One note – if you’ve been waiting to see the first The Seattle Times’ state softball polls of the season, I need to inform you that there’s been a staff decision not to compile rankings for any spring sports this year.
We’re trying to use our resources in different ways (it took a lot of time to put rankings together each week) and spread out the coverage. So, you’ll get this weekly notebook and some quality features throughout the season. And once we get to tournament play in May, I’ll be out to cover more games.
Today, I’ll kick things off with a look at Woodinville, the defending 4A state champion, and add some notes on perennial-power Bainbridge along with red-hot Enumclaw.
Falcons don’t fear favorite’s role
It’s no secret that Woodinville is considered 4A state favorite this spring.
The Falcons are the defending champions and return six starters from the team that finished 26-0 – including All-American pitcher Madi Schreyer, who was named the state Gatorade Player of the Year last season after going 21-0 with a 0.28 ERA and 189 strikeouts in 123 innings.
They have a new head coach in Dani Weir, who was an assistant the past two seasons and is very familiar with the kind of pressure her team is facing. As a junior first baseman in 2005, she helped Woodinville go 27-0 en route to their first state championship.
Expectations were heaped upon the team again the following season. Unfortunately, Weir suffered a knee injury early on and could only watch as the Falcons fell a little short of repeating in 2006, taking third.
“We know we have a target on our back and I’ve been in that situation,” said Weir, who went on to play four years at Boston College and one year professionally in Switzerland. “The difference this year is that we’ve been talking about it from Day One. We’re not going to let it be the elephant in the room that’s not talked about.
“The girls are even more focused than they were last year, because they know they have to be. There’s added pressure, but we’re dealing with it in a fun way and trying to turn pressure into pleasure. The pressure’s there, but they’re not feeling it as much.”
Woodinville, ranked No. 9 nationally by MaxPreps and No. 10 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll, has holes to fill left by seven graduating seniors – including No. 2 pitcher Keelyn Davis. But Weir believes she’s got a solid backup in sophomore Kathryn Hatlen, who was the top JV pitcher last season and also is a big presence at the plate.
“She’s a double-threat,” Weir said.
Of course, the same is true of Schreyer, who committed to Stanford as a sophomore. She already has hit four home runs and on the mound “she’s as strong as ever,” according to Weir.
Senior catcher Alex Boyd, who is headed to Oregon State, is back as well. She also has bashed four homers thus far.
The other returning starters are senior Emily Jackson (second base), junior Sarah Taketa (third base) and Alyssa O’Farrell (first base).
Junior Tori Lettus, a backup utility player last season, has stepped in at shortstop and sophomore Nicole Shavlik, a transfer from Monroe, is holding down center field. Lettus has had a hot bat thus far, going 14-for-20 (.700) with two doubles, three triples and seven RBIs.
The Falcons improved to 7-0 (2-0 in KingCo 4A play) with a 6-2 victory over Skyline Wednesday. Schreyer tossed a two-hitter, striking out 14, and buckled down after giving Tia Hedman drove in the Spartans’ two runs in the first inning. Jackson homered for Woodinville.
Next up Saturday is a big showdown with Oregon’s top team, North Medford, which is the defending 6A champion currently ranked No. 13 by MaxPreps and No. 22 in the NFCA poll. The Black Tornado went 29-1 last season led by pitcher Maryssa Becker, a junior who was 26-0 with a 0.43 ERA. She also batted .475 and was named Oregon’s Gatorade Player of the Year. Becker is back and has committed to Louisville.
The game is set for noon at Gig Harbor High School, which also is playing North Medford.
Bainbridge wants to bring state hardware back home
It was an empty feeling for the Bainbridge seniors who walked out of the 3A state tournament empty-handed last season.
The trio of starters had been spoiled by success as the Spartans had played for the previous three state titles, winning as freshmen in 2009 and placing second in 2010 and 2011. Last year’s team was unbeaten until dropping a game to Mount Si in the Sea-King 3A District tournament.
But Bainbridge lost its opener at state, 2-1 to Camas. After staying alive in consolation play with three victories, the Spartans were eliminated by Mount Si.
“It was hard to watch those seniors go out without some hardware,” coach Liz McCloskey said.
And the players on this year’s team don’t want to see it happen again.
“I would love to think we have a shot at winning it again,” McCloskey said, “but placing is our No. 1 thing. Bringing home some hardware would be our main goal.”
And with all but three position players back, including ace pitcher Katie Raben, it would seem to be an attainable one.
“I feel pretty good about this group of kids,” McCloskey said. “They work hard every day.”
Raben, the Metro MVP last season, will handle the bulk of the pitching but McCloskey said she is confident in the three backups she has.
The coach has also been impressed with the play of junior shortstop Alison Reichert, who has “improved tremendously,” she said. Senior Erin Kinney (third base) and her sophomore sister, Kate, (outfield) are also key.
The Spartans, who start five underclassmen, are 7-0 after back-to-back wins over Bishop Blanchet. As usual, Bainbridge’s main competition likely will come from Holy Names, which was ultra-young last season had a three-year state run end.
Enumclaw looking good in the circle, at the plate
Mike Eckhart is ecstatic about his team’s early play this season.
And what’s not to like?
During one three-game stretch, Enumclaw outscored its opponents 44-0. The Hornets then beat Peninsula, the defending SPSL 3A champion, 5-1 on Tuesday. The Seawawks feature one of the league’s top pitchers in Aspen Ison, last year’s Most Valuable Pitcher who had been averaging 12 strikeouts per game.
“We’re playing really well right now,” Eckhart said.
He has the luxury of having two solid pitchers – sophomore Chloe Young and freshman Quinn Breidenbach.
Young handled most of the pitching duties last season, when the Hornets reached the 3A state quarterfinals before losing to Everett, which wound up second in the tournament to Kamiakin of Kennewick. She has a 1.00 ERA thus far.
Breidenbach, who was injured early on, gave up her first run of the season against Peninsula, raising her ERA to 0.54. She throws 60-plus miles per hour, while Young is more of a spot pitcher. Together, the two pitchers have struck out 42 in 27 innings, walking just four.
The Hornets lost only their catcher from last year’s lineup. Junior Becky Forza, who started at third last year, has moved behind the plate. Young and Breidenbach rotate at third when not pitching.
As a team, Enumclaw is hitting .507, led by senior outfielder Molly Lamotte (.647 with eight RBI). Breidenbach is next in line at .636 and carries a .696 on-base percentage. Young has a team-best 13 RBIs and is batting .524.
The other top hitters are senior second-baseman Bri Schmidt (.588) and junior shortstop Sarah Morrow (.588).
I’ve found two sets of national rankings thus far.
You can find the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 here (note they don’t show Woodinville playing any games yet).
And you can find the National Fastpitch Coaches Association top-25 here.
I know ESPN has done softball rankings in the past and I’ll keep an eye out for those as well.