Can you believe the state softball tournaments are just over three weeks away?
The playoffs in many leagues begin next week, and I’ll have some links to various brackets as soon as possible (hopefully on Monday).
But in this week’s Triple Play, the focus is on Newport’s push for a strong playoff run, Shorecrest’s red-hot streak and Cedar Park Christian’s quest to keep a state string going.
And as, always, I’ll have the latest national rankings.
Hannah Owings has something good (really good) at Newport
Hannah Owings figured she’d have something good at Newport this spring.
But as a first-year coach, she wasn’t quite sure just how good. Or, to be more exact, if the Knights would be good enough to compete in the upper echelon of KingCo 4A.
As it turns out, they’re plenty good enough. The Knights lead the KingCo 4A Crown Division with a 10-1 record and are 12-4 overall. Their lone loss came early last month against nationally ranked, unbeaten Woodinville, which sits atop the Crest Division. It was a competitive game, tied 1-1 through four innings before the Falcons pulled away for a 4-1 victory.
Owings had trained or coached some of the Newport players with the Bellevue Blast, which gave her some confidence coming into the season.
“I had the advantage of knowing a lot of the players,” she said. “I knew we had a lot of talent, but to be honest, I didn’t know how we were going to stack up against the other teams.
“I knew the talent and I knew they were workhorses. They worked hard every day. I knew we were going to be competitive and that we had a lot of potential. It took until the middle of the season for me to realize we have a very special group of girls, a very special group of seniors.”
More on those seniors in a minute.
Owings was a special player herself at Liberty of Issaquah as the starting shortstop for the team that finished second at the 3A state tournament in 2000, her senior year. The Patriots placed third the year before. Owings went on to play first base at the University of Virginia, then was an assistant coach at Santa Clara University for two years before playing professionally in the Netherlands for a season.
She then coached two seasons at Interlake, 2006 and ’07, before stepping away to pursue her master’s in intercollegiate athletic leadership. Owings now works at the University of Washington as program administrator in the Center for Leadership in Athletics. While she was able to do some coaching and training at the club level, she said this was the first season she felt she had the time to take on a high-school position again.
Owings had reason for skepticism early on this season as Newport started just 1-3 with losses to Glacier Peak, Holy Names and Mountlake Terrace. They are 11-1 since.
“They had struggled with consistency with the past and now we’ve become more consistent,” Owings said. “We’re starting to create a culture of competitiveness and drive and fun in this program, and see how far we can go….We struggled in the beginning and there was a learning curve. Then they started to play good ball. The girls have a good vision now. They know they can play some tough games and beat some tough teams.”
Now, back to that quartet of seniors – third baseman Bridget Raftery, catcher Indiana Coxey and outfielders Sarah Stochell and Tory Tokita.
Raftery, who has signed with UW, is actually a catcher by trade, but mostly plays at third because it suits the team better, since Coxey (who will play at the Academy of Art in San Francisco) is also excellent behind the plate.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Owings said.
Raftery, who occasional catches for the Knights, is batting .405 on the season with a team-high 16 RBIs. She has struck out just once in 42 at-bats and has a .946 fielding percentage, committing only two errors.
“Bridget is an amazing girl,” Owings said. “She is a student of the game. She absolutely loves softball and is so passionate bout the sport and that is evident in everything she does. She is a great leader. As a captain, I couldn’t ask anything more from her. She leads by example.”
Coxey, who can also play in the middle-infield, is just 5-foot-3 but plays like a giant. She carries a .412 batting average with a team-leading 20 runs scored. With six doubles, a triple and a home run, her slugging percentage is .686 and her OPS is 1.178. Defensively, she has thrown out four runners attempting to steal and has a fielding percentage of .970.
“Indiana is really like a coach’s dream,” Owings said. “We really hit the jackpot with both of our captains. She works as hard as any player I’ve ever had and she’s consistent in her work ethic. She has such high expectations for herself and her teammates. She is also a great student of the game. She’s always looking to learn and improve and she makes everyone around her better. People tend to elevate their game when they’re around her. She’s awesome, and she’s a gamer.”
Stochel and Tokita also contribute on offense and defense.
Kat Wood, a 5-5 sophomore, handles most of the pitching duties and is 12-2 with an ERA of 1.89. She has struck out 84 batters in 89 innings.
“Kat’s one of the players I’ve known for a long time and coached,” Owings said. She’s a workhorse. She will come out and try to out-work anyone on the field. What she lacks in stature, she makes up in tenacity and hard work. She does a great job using everything she has. Her freshman year, I think she surprised herself with her success. Now she knows she can throw with the best of them in this league.”
And hit with them, too. Wood has a .438 batting average with 17 runs scored an seven stolen bases.
Junior shortstop Kaitlin Sahlinger leads the regulars in batting with a .558 average and is second in RBIs with 13 (plus 12 runs scored). Her OPS is 1.263. She also has seven stolen bases.
As a team, the Knights are batting .338 and are looking to qualify for state for only the third time in school history. Their only state appearances were in 2002 and 2008, both in 3A.
“If we continue to play in a consistent manner and play up to our capabilities, I think we will be to have a good showing in the district tournament,” Owings said. “We have a tough road to get to state, but we feel like we have got a great shot at continuing to win ballgames and get to state.
“Our team goal is to get to that tournament. They were one game away last year and we want to get to state for these seniors and give them the great run they deserve.”
Things are shaping up at Shorecrest
After an up-and-down start to the season, Shorecrest is starting to roll.
The Scots have swept eight of their past nine games, losing only to Meadowdale during that span. They picked up their second one-run victory over Glacier Peak Tuesday to solidify their hold on second place in the WesCo 3A South Division at 8-2 (12-5 overall).
Meadowdale sits on top at 10-0 (14-2) with Glacier Peak third (7-3, 11-6) and Mountlake Terrace fourth (6-4, 10-7). It’s a tough division, which is just fine with coach Jackie Berg.
“It’s been great competing in this division,” she said. “Everybody shows us something to work on. It’s fun. I like the competition, and the girls do, too.
Shorecrest bolted to a 4-1 nonleague record out of the gate, losing only to 4A Cascade, then dropped three straight. Two of those were to 4A teams (Redmond and Jackson) and the other to Meadowdale in the league opener.
Coach Jackie Berg said the Scots are playing with more confidence these days.
“I think my seniors have really stepped up to the plate and the expectations have risen for these girls on the field,” she said. “They’re working together as a team.”
Early on, they’d get a key hit here and a clutch double-play there, but there wasn’t as much teamwork, according to Berg.
“Now it’s consistent and our defense has really solidified,” she said. “Offensively, the girls are being smart and picking the pitch they want to hit.”
And they’re playing like veterans – which most of them are. Shorecrest reached the Northwest District tournament last year without a senior on the squad. Everyone is back, including five seniors who have been with Berg since she took over the program four years ago. And two freshmen have been added to the mix.
“I didn’t have the senior leadership last year,” Berg said. “This year, (almost) everybody has at least a year under their belt and now they want it.”
Among the seniors are pitchers Amanda Hartley and Amanda Eschelman. Hartley, who has a wicked drop, generally starts. Eschelman, who throws a dangerous curve in and out, gets a few starts and also comes on in relief. She also plays some in the outfield.
Hartley, who also plays first base or is in the lineup as the DP, is the team’s top hitter with a .500 average and 22 RBIs (stats not updated after the Glacier Peak game Tuesday). With six home runs, two triples and eight doubles, her slugging percentage is 1.042 and she’s scored 17 runs. Plus, she has been flawless defensively, with a 1.000% fielding percentage.
Callie Anderson, a junior center fielder, carries a .472 average in the leadoff spot. She’s a left-handed slapper with a team-best 19 runs and eight stolen bases.
Junior shortstop Anisa Gomez bats .400 with 14 RBI and also has some pop in her bat with five doubles and two homers. First baseman Katie Champoux, another junior, has a .394 batting average (including three triples) and .982 fielding percentage.
Typically, the Scots can hit from the top of the lineup through the bottom.
“I feel very confident all of the way through the lineup, pretty much,” Berg said. “All of the girls have contributed key hits when we needed them.”
And key defensive plays, too. Four others have fielding percentages of .900 or better – Eshelman (.964), senior second baseman Jeanna Berg (.963), sophomore catcher Olivia Nolan (.951) and junior outfielder Alissa Kaufhold (.900). Jeanna is Jackie’s sister.
The Scots haven’t been to state since 2004, when coach Berg was a junior pitcher/catcher there. They went 1-2 that year after reaching the title game the three previous seasons. Shorecrest won the 4A title in 2001 (3-2 over Kentlake in 10 innings), then lost to Kentridge 2-1 in 2002 and, after dropping to 3A in 2003, were second to Hanford (another one-run game, 6-5).
Berg’s assistant coaches are also Shorecrest grads – Geneva Hale (2004), Briana Davis (2005) and Alanna Schade (2008).
This year’s team intends to end the state drought.
“They want to get to state and the team wants to do it for the seniors,” Berg said. “They are rallying behind those seniors.”
New faces, new league, same old goal for Cedar Park Christian
The team got younger. The league got tougher. But the goals didn’t get any smaller for Cedar Park Christian of Bothell this season.
As usual, the Eagles have their sights set on getting back to the 1A state tournament. They made their 11th straight trip last spring (the string actually started with the 2B event in 2002, then Cedar Park moved up to 1A). And coach Stephanie Fazio believes this year’s squad has the potential to extend the streak – even though her daughter, Ryanne Fazio, a four-year starter at shortstop, is the only senior on the roster.
“Oh, absolutely,” the coach said. “These girls have worked incredibly hard and we’ve been doing very well lately….I know we’re going to continue to battle and prepare for state, which has been our end-goal. Our league is better preparing us for district than any league we’ve even been in before.”
The Eagles joined the Nisqually League this school year and have found the competition much better than in the Emerald City League, where they used to play.
“It’s a whole new ballgame,” Fazio said. “We were looking for a more competitive league, and we’ve got that for sure.”
Cedar Park Christian dominated the Emerald City League last spring and outscored regular-season opponents 137-17. They placed second at district, and had high hopes for a top-four finish at state. But they dropped their opening game to Castle Rock, which went on to finish third. Cedar Park stayed alive with two victories in consolation play, then was eliminated by Onalaska, which took fourth.
They fact that the losses came against top-four teams provided a little consolation.
“If you’re going to get beat, you want to get beat by a team that takes home a trophy,” Fazio said. “We had a great year. It was a good run.”
Five starters graduated from that team, including top pitcher Mikayla Hoffman. But junior Erica Girgus, who threw a bit last season, has stepped into that role.
“She does a great job on the mound,” Fazio said. “She’s improved a lot. She’s not the kind of pitcher who is going to strike a lot of people out, but she hits her spots well and defensively she does a great job.”
She is backed up by freshman Jaela Cruz, who primarily plays second base or in the outfield. Cruz, who bats in the leadoff role, is one of the team’s top hitters with a .606 batting average and team-high 21 runs (as of Tuesday). Ryanne Fazio, who will play at Edmonds Community College next year, is close behind with 18 runs and a .594 average.
The biggest bat in the lineup, however, comes from another of Fazio’s daughters, freshman Sicilia. She is hitting at a .656 clip with 28 RBIs. Defensively, she is versatile and either catches or plays third or in the outfield.
Softball talent obviously runs in the family. Stephanie (Moody) Fazio was a pitcher at Lake Washington in the early 1990s and helped the Kangaroos reach the 4A state semifinals her senior year, 1993. They lost 2-1 to Richland.
Getting back to state is especially important to Ryanne Fazio.
“She wants to complete her four-year cycle of going to state,” the coach said. “You don’t want to miss out your senior year. But she knows we have some inexperience. She’s one of our captains and does a great job of encouraging everyone.”
The Eagles are currently in third place in the league at 7-4 (10-4 overall). Unbeaten Eatonville, which dropped from 2A this school year, leads the way and Seattle Christian sits in second place. The top four teams advance to 1A Tri-District tournament. From there, four teams will move on to state.
And the CPC Eagles plan to be one of them.
The latest national rankings
Woodinville is holding at No. 8 in this week’s NFCA poll, which you can find here.
The the Falcons continue to climb in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 rankings, inching from No. 18 to No. 16. You can see the full list here.