In this week’s Triple Play, you’ll find out how coach Jeff Skelly started his trek toward 400 fastpitch victories at Inglemoor (he needs just one more). And I’ve checked in with a pair of unbeaten teams — Tahoma, which is doing things a little differently this season, and Kennedy Catholic, which is relying heavily on a group of freshmen (along with some key upperclassmen).
I’ve also got some scores of interest to pass along, in case you missed them, and as always will conclude with the latest national rankings.
At Inglemoor, it started with a simple phone call to Jeff Skelly
Jeff Skelly remembers the phone call. It was the summer of 1985. He was at home, upstairs, and then-principal Al Haynes was on the line. He was looking for someone to take over as Inglemoor’s slowpitch softball coach after the resignation of Kim Hadfield. Skelly was (and still is) an assistant football coach at the time, but softball?
“I said, ‘I don’t know anything about softball’ and he said, ‘You don’t have to,’” Skelly recalls. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll give it a shot.’”
How hard could it be, right? He was athletic – he was a defensive end in high school in Sacramento and went on to play at the University Idaho. And although he didn’t play organized baseball, he followed the game and was a big Giants fan.
But he had never even seen a softball game and reality hit quickly.
“I couldn’t even hit a fly ball,” he said. “I went up to Woodinville with a bat and bucket of balls, and I thought, ‘What am I getting myself into?’”
But he put a summer team together and attended a couple of coaching clinics.
And as it turns out, Haynes hit one out of the park by hiring Skelly, who is now in his 28th year with the softball program, which evolved from slowpitch to fastpitch in 1993. He seeks his 400th fastpitch victory Monday when the Vikings travel to Bothell.
Skelly still remembers the first Inglemoor team he coached.
“I had one senior and we just went out and learned together,” he said. “We had the worst facility in the state. Basically, it was a sand soccer field. We had no batting cages and no power. I remember we took a telephone spool (with a power line) and carried it out there so we could put up one pitching machine.
The team went 7-13 that season and 6-14 the next. In 1991, the Viks won 15 games and qualified for state for only the second time in school history (they’d also gone in 1985).
Many teams made the switch to fastpitch in 1992, the first year the WIAA had a sanctioned tournament, but Inglemoor was one of several KingCo teams that stuck with slowpitch for one more season. The Vikings finished 11-12 their first year with fastpitch and made the playoffs. Since then, they’ve had only two other sub-.500 seasons.
Skelly’s career record is 399-143 in fastpitch and 467-229 overall. The Vikings are 256-65 in KingCo 4A play since 1995. They won first of eight straight league championships that year (they tied for first the following season in 2003) and Skelly remembers going over to the home of Frank Naish, AD and football coach, to celebrate.
“It was really exciting,” he said. “It was the first big championship we had and we went on to win eight in a row. We were pretty dominant in league.”
The Viks went 135-9 in KingCo play over those eight seasons and earned a pair of third-place trophies at state. They actually tied for the division title the following season, 2003, but had lost twice to Eastlake (the only blemishes on an 18-2 conference mark) and weren’t considered co-champions, according to Skelly.
In 2004, Inglemoor tied for second in division play at 15-5, then went on to win their only state title.
“We came out of nowhere,” Skelly said.
He remembers a tournament advance in The Seattle Times that listed four teams as favorites and five as contenders. Inglemoor wasn’t one of them. Olympia, the West Central District champion, was a favorite and the Vikings upset them in the opening round, 3-0, as Megan Schuler just missed a perfect game, issuing a two-out walk in the seventh.
In the final, they faced rival Eastlake – a team they had lost to three times during the season. This time, Schuler tossed a two-hit shutout. Skelly said he was confident going into the game.
“I just knew we were going to win that championship,” he said. “We weren’t the best team in the state that year, but we were the best team in the state that weekend.”
The championship was extra special because Skelly’s daughter, Holly, was a junior on the team that season and played first base. He also has fond memories of 2001 team that went 29-2 and placed third at state.
Last season, the Vikings made their 11th trip to the state tourney in the past 17 years and Skelly believes they can get back there again.
“Hopefully our bats come around and we peak at the right time,” he said.
Skelly is in his 34th year of teaching and currently has Life Fitness classes at both Inglemoor and Bothell.
He isn’t sure just how many more years he’ll continue to coach.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I’m going to play it year to year. I could see myself going four or five more years. We’ll see.”
And we’ll see just how high that win total will climb.
Tahoma thrives on pitching-catching-defense — and lots of runs
For a defensive-minded guy, coach Tom Milligan sure has a high-octane offensive team at Tahoma this season.
The Bears have scored 99 runs in nine league games. They not only can hit, carrying a team batting average of .471 in the SPSL 4A North Division, but have tremendous wheels. They’ve stolen 51 bases in 52 tries.
“It’s like a mini-track meet out there,” Milligan said. “Our speed is there on a daily basis. It doesn’t take a day off.”
Freshman shortstop Mia Corbin leads off and is a perfect 17-for-17 in stolen bases. She had big shoes to fill defensively in replacing Haley Beckstrom, one of just two seniors on the team that went to state for the second season in a row last spring. She has more than met the challenge, committing just two errors in league play while batting .484 with a team-high 16 runs scored.
“She plays soccer and softball and she’s pretty phenomenal in both sports,” Milligan said. “She took over for a kid (Bergstrom) who had a pretty good four years. She’s going to be something. She’s going to be whatever she wants to be. She could pick up a basketball, go out for track or put on dance shoes and be successful. Athletically, she’s going to have a lot of choices in life.”
Tahoma is 9-0 in league play, 10-2 overall. The Bears dropped their first two games of the season by a total of two runs – 15-14 to Bothell and 2-1 to Newport – and are 10-0 since. That offense has a lot to do with the success, but Milligan finds the key in other areas.
“The biggest thing is we have good pitching-catching-defense,” he said. “That’s been a given. Having that as a foundation has gotten us where we are right now. It’s there every game.”
There was experience at catcher in junior Bre West. But pitching was a bit of a question mark coming in. The other senior on last year’s squad was Jordan Walley, a four-year veteran who pitched and played first base – and hit the hide off the softball with a career average near .400. Plus Mariah Hill, who was 4-2 in the SPSL North as a sophomore last year, elected not to turn out this spring.
That left sophomore Maddie Scott as the only returning thrower, although a solid one with a 4-0 record last season. In comes freshman Carley Nance, a lefty who not only pitches but can play first base.
“To have Carly step in was huge,” Milligan said.
Nance, in fact, is 5-0 in league play with a 0.81 ERA, while Scott is 4-0 with a 1.83 ERA.
“I feel really confident with the two we have,” the coach said, noting he plans to continue rotating them game by game.
Milligan, in his ninth season, had been spoiled with the Bears’ big bats the past two seasons as they amassed 39 home runs. He knew he couldn’t expect that kind of power this year.
“I had to evolve as a coach knowing we weren’t going to have 2-through-5 hitters who could hit it over the fence every day,” he said, noting this year’s squad has just two homers. “It’s a way different team and something I was hoping for….This team is going to hit it and run a lot.”
The Bears are still young with just four seniors, three of whom are in the outfield rotation. One of the, Courtney Cloud has a team-high .600 batting average in league play. Juniors Morgan Engelhard (third base) and Halle Elliott (outfield) are next in line at .552 and .531, respectively. West is batting .448 with 10 RBI.
Tahoma had never qualified for state until 2011, but the Bears are hoping to make a habit of it with a third straight trip this spring.
“I told them, ‘I don’t have any plans for Memorial Day weekend, but what does it take to get there?’” Milligan said.
Probably the kind of pitching-catching-defense he’s been getting, along with all of that offense.
Kennedy Catholic cruising again with help from freshmen
Dino Josie had the jitters.
Kennedy Catholic graduated five key players from the 2012 team that made its usual appearance at the West Central District 3A tournament. He wasn’t sure what kind of incoming talent he’d find.
“I was very nervous,” Josie said. “I didn’t know who was coming in until they came through the door.”
A strong freshman class assuaged those worries.
“I’ve got seven freshmen and they’re all contributing,” the coach said. “It was a blessing to get a good freshman class that matched up perfectly with our junior-senior leadership.”
The Lancers are unbeaten at 12-0, 9-0 in the Seamount League – admittedly not one of the stronger softball leagues in the area. But the other wins are over two solid Metro teams – Bishop Blanchet and Chief Sealth – and Seattle Christian.
Not only are the freshmen contributing, but all three outfielders are sophomores. Yet the team revolves around seniors Kate Lewis and Miranda Goff along with junior Sierra Bains.
“They’re doing a great job leading our team,” Josie said.
Lewis is the team’s No. 1 pitcher with a 7-0 record and 1.44 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 34 innings. Bains, who has been in the circle against some of the weaker teams in the league, is 4-0 with a 0.40 ERA and 30 Ks in 17 1/3 innings.
“Kate’s got a lot of movement on her pitches and she throws a good rise,” Josie said. “Sierra’s very good at hitting her spots and she beats up the bottom of the strike-zone.”
The team ERA is 1.88 and the Lancers have allowed just 22 runs in 11 games (the 12th win was by forfeit) while scoring 132.
Bains, who also plays in the infield, has been most impressive at the plate with a staggering 44 RBI in 11 games.
“She’s powering our team’s offense,” Josie said.
She is batting .633 with four home runs, a triple and six doubles, good for a slugging percentage of 1.300. Not surprisingly, she’s walked nine times, too.
Goff is batting .613 with an on-base percentage of .767 and a team-high 23 runs scored. Freshman Maggie Gallagher, a lefty who slaps the ball very well, carries a .600 average and .795 on-base percentage with 21 runs scored and 16 RBI.
The Lancers are batting .472 as a team.
“We hit pretty well one through nine,” Josie said.
This is his 20th season as head coach and he earned his 200th Seamount victory Wednesday against Foster. The Lancers are 200-88 in league play under his tutelage and 284-165 overall. Josie is quick to credit assistant coaches Mike Trautmann and Jim Perkins.
“One of the reason we’re so successful is their knowledge of the game,” he said.
Kennedy won back-to-back state titles in 2007 and ’08, when Karli Merlich dominated on the mound, but haven’t qualified for the tournament since 2009. Josie thinks they can end the drought this season. Among the team’s goals are to win an eighth straight league title and qualify for state.
“And once we get to state to hopefully play well enough to bring a trophy home,” Josie added.
To prepare for a post-season run, he has scheduled what should be some competitive games with Wilson of Tacoma (May 8) and Jefferson (May 14), both state placers last season.
Did you catch these scores?
The top two teams in the Metro League, and two of the better programs in the state, went at it yesterday as Holy Names traveled to Bainbridge.
Both were unbeaten coming in, and it took an extra inning to decide the game as Holy Names prevailed 7-6 in the eighth. It was the first league loss for the Spartans in nearly two years. They lost 7-1 to Holy Names on April 19 of 2011.
The Cougars went up 6-4 on a three-run homer by Casey Pelz in the top of the seventh, but Emily Schneider delivered a two-out, two-run double in the bottom half to tie it.
The two teams are schedule to play again Friday at Lower Woodland Park.
And over in WesCo 4A play, Lake Stevens edged Cascade yesterday, 5-4. It was the second straight loss for the Bruins, who fell 6-0 to Snohomish on Monday after a 10-0 start to the season. They still lead the South Division at 5-2. Lake Stevens leads the North Division at 6-1 and is 9-3 overall.
The latest national rankings
Woodinville has climbed to No. 14 in the latest MaxPreps Xcellent 25 rankings, while Connell is up to No. 22. You’ll find the full list here.
The Falcons hold at No. 9 in this week’s NFCA poll, which you can find here.