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April 3, 2014 at 11:05 AM

Triple Play: Softball notes on Tahoma, Enumclaw and Bellevue

I hope you’ve been able to get out and enjoy some games this week with the great weather – and let’s hope it holds out for at least another day.

In this edition of Triple Play, my weekly blog notebook focused on prep softball, you’ll get a closer look at Tahoma, Enumclaw and Bellevue. So, let’s get right to it.

No jinx intended – but these Bears are bad news

Tom Milligan doesn’t want to jinx himself, or his players, so don’t expect him to spout off about just how good this Tahoma team could be.

So let me do it for him.

With a ton of talent back from the squad that placed a school-best third place at last year’s Class 4A state tournament, the Bears have the potential to finish on top this season.

There, I said it. I couldn’t get Milligan to go that far.

What about just shooting for another state trophy, I asked him.

“I wouldn’t say no,” the coach said. “But it’s hard to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to win it all, Sandy. Just put it down on paper some place.’ ”

So I told him I would. Then I asked Milligan if he talks about that with the team.

“I don’t,” he said. “I feel like I jinx myself. I think I want them to compete at a level that puts them in a spot to be there, but realize that you read something in the paper and you put a huge target on your back. … I don’t want to make a poster for somebody else. It’s being able to deal with that, knowing what your potential is and balancing it out with the competition you need every day, because anybody can beat anybody and so you’ve got to deliver.”

Only three seniors graduated from last year’s team. However, Tahoma suffered another key loss when senior catcher Bre West injured her rotator cuff in February and has been shelved for the year. She was not only solid defensively, but batted .352 with a team-high 33 RBI last season and was the All-SPSL North first-team catcher.

“That’s a big hit,” Milligan said.

Freshman Makinzi Sanders has stepped in and has been playing well behind the plate, Milligan said.

The Bears are loaded elsewhere. They have two quality pitchers, junior Maddie Scott and sophomore Carley Nance, who basically rotated last season and will do the same this year.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” Milligan said. “When I look at their stats from last year, I was amazed at how close they were. It’s like they are the right- and left-handed versions of each other.”

Nance, the lefty, finished 16-4 with 77 strikeouts in 100 innings and a 1.17 ERA, earning honors as the league’s Pitcher of the Year. Scott, the righty, was 11-1 with 65 Ks in 96 1/3 innings and a 1.18 ERA. Both have matured, Milligan said.

Speedy Mia Corbin returns at shortstop and was voted the SPSL North Player of the Year as a freshman last year. She hit .443 and was 43 for 43 in stolen bases. Corbin is also an outstanding soccer player and was voted to the all-state second team last fall. Milligan believes she could play either sport in college.

“She’s got to make some grownup decisions in her life,” he said.

The Bears know what it takes to get to state after qualifying in each of the past three seasons. But Milligan admits it can be “kind of a crapshoot” from there, depending on the early pairings.

“There’s some things you can’t control,” he said, “so you’ve got to catch a little luck as far as how you are seeded and who you’re going up against in those first games to kind of getting the kids comfortable to it. It’s also building throughout the season, knowing you’re starting at a level and building it to where you want to be so everyone’s firing on all cylinders by the time you hit that tournament or hitting the playoffs.”

And here’s betting Tahoma will be a well-oiled machine by that time.

Enumclaw has the ‘talk,’ and the walk to back it

Coach Mike Eckhart knows how unpredictable – and cruel – this game can be. Last year’s 3A state tournament was a prime example for his young Enumclaw team.

The Hornets were stung by late home runs twice after reaching the quarterfinals and home without a trophy.

They led Meadowdale 8-5 in the 10th inning before the Mavericks rallied for a 10-8 victory capped by sophomore RebeccaWright’s three-run home run that came with two outs and two strikes.

“That was a great game,” Eckhart recalls. “That kid had a great hit. We actually threw the pitch we wanted to. We threw her high and inside. We watched it on film. She just stepped back and roped it over the fence. We just stepped back and said, ‘OK, there it went.’ But what a story for her.”

Enumclaw was eliminated in the next game by Mountlake Terrace, which trailed 8-4 before exploding for grand-slams in the sixth and seventh innings en route to a 12-8 victory.

So, ask Eckhart what the team’s goal is for this season, and he talks about bouncing back as much as winning.

“They want to better last year,” he said. “That (Meadowdale) game hit them hard and we had a hard time recovering against Mountlake Terrace in the next game. Our biggest thought this year is about recovering, recovering after things go bad and making sure we’re a solid team all of the way through. That’s more of our emphasis, how to recover when anything does go bad.”

But this team, with all but four starters back, should be super-good – good enough to earn a state trophy, and maybe even the big one.

“Definitely,” Eckhart said. “In their mindset, they want to win the whole thing. And I’m like, you might as well say it. Because if you can’t say it, you can’t do it. If you can’t make that commitment and that goal, you’re never going to do it. You can’t be afraid to say it….I think when you get to the tournament, there’s probably four or five teams that on any given day can win the state tournament. It’s just a matter of who puts it together for those two days.”

Enumclaw features one of the area’s top pitchers , sophomore Quinn Breidenbach, who is 6-0 with a 0.26 ERA. She has struck out 56 batters in 27 innings. She started drawing D-I offers as a freshman and continues to improve. Her fastball is clocked at 64 miles per hour (up from 61 mph last season) and she has an assortment of other pitches to go with it – a curve, slider, drop, rise and change-up.

“Probably the best thing about Quinn is that she doesn’t know she’s good,” Eckhart said. “She comes in every day, works hard every day, will do whatever you ask her to. She’s the first one to help another teammate, she’ll pick up gear. She doesn’t know she’s good. She just works hard all the time. We’ve never had a problem. She’s always got a smile on her face. I don’t think she’s ever said anything mean to anybody. Those are the kinds of kids you just love coaching.”

Breidenbach also carries a big bat and plays first base when not pitching. She is hitting .565 with seven doubles and nine RBI.

Chloe Young shared some of the pitching duties as a sophomore last year but is now anchored at third base with freshman Madelyn Carlson taking a few turns in the circle. Carlson, who throws right around 60 mph, is 1-0 with a 1.11 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 19 innings. She is batting .440. Young has a .500 average and shares the RBI lead with nine.

In seven games, the Hornets have scored 76 runs (14 by Sarah Morrow and 12 by Tammy Wilkening) and allowed just six.

They have good reason for their high hopes– and they’re not afraid to talk about them.

Bellevue building toward another state run

The rise was steady. The fall was swift.

But Bellevue is ready to ascend again this season.

The Wolverines earned back-to-back 3A state trophies in 2010 (tied for third in the rain-shortened tournament) and 2011 (fourth). Then came successive losing seasons.

Last year’s team won just four games – but it’s easy to understand why. It was a young squad that included just two seniors, one junior and one sophomore. Several of the newcomers had never played softball before.

Bellevue is young again with six freshmen starters – but the talent level is much improved, according to coach Heather Tracy, who said it reminds her of the young group she had in 2009 that reached the Sea-King District tournament and went on to claim those state trophies the following two seasons.

“They all come in and they’re pretty connected,” she said. “They’ve been playing softball together for a long time. They grew up playing little league together. It’s a fun group. They ask lots of questions. They love to kind of get behind why we do things … They kind of like to have dialogue about it. As a coach, it’s great. The more you can give them and say, ‘Here, the game is yours, go play it based on what you’ve learned,’ it can just take you far.

“The fact that they are already doing all of this as freshman – I like to stay in the moment, of course, but obviously looking ahead it’s exciting to get this far with this group already.”

The Wolverines are 5-3 after Wednesday’s 7-1 loss to Lake Washington – which should be a favorite in KingCo 3A/2A. Their other losses were to quality 4A teams, Inglemoor and Woodinville.

Tracy said she is pleased with the leadership from her three returning players – senior Sammie Trulson (shortstop) and juniors Dejah Rogers (pitcher/first base) and Kristie Bennett (second base/catcher).

“I couldn’t ask for three better kids,” she said. “They’ve learned kind of going through the ranks. They’ve really stepped up and are embracing these freshmen. We’ve had a lot of conversations about how we bring this whole thing together.”

Trulson is the lone senior. Rogers and Bennett are the only juniors. The future is bright, but this group is focused on the present.

“We talk about that,” Tracy said. “It’s kind of like what Russell Wilson always says, ‘Why not us?’ We’ve got the talent and you don’t want to waste anyone’s senior year trying to play for the future. It’s all about what can we do now, what kind of steps forward can we take now? If you can make it all of the way to the state tournament as freshmen, that’s great and that’s what we want to shoot for.”

Rogers, who transferred from Wilson of Tacoma last season, is a fiery competitor who expects a lot from herself, according to Tracy.

“She does bring a little bit of an attitude to the team, which is great, we love it,” she said.

Last season was tough, when few fly balls were routine and grounders often rolled to the fence. But Rogers weathered the storm and celebrated her teammates’ little successes with smiles and high fives.

And this season there should be a whole lot more of those.

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