What an exciting time in high-school softball!
There have already been some great games in various league and district tournaments, with more to come over the next three days.
I’m heading out to the final day of the Sea-King 3A tourney at Lower Woodland this afternoon, then plan to be at the West Central 4A District event in Kent Friday and Saturday.
Where will you be?
A number of teams have already punched their tickets to state, and congratulations to all of them! But there are still several berths up for grabs – nearly half of the 4A field, for instance, comes out of the massive West Central tourney (which includes three teams from the Greater St. Helen’s League in the Southwest District, but for the most part we simplified it last year and quit calling it a bi-district).
Seven of the 16 state qualifiers will be decided in that tournament alone.
I saw Woodinville and Redmond earn their berths Monday by advancing to the championship game of the KingCo 4A tournament, which should be a dandy tonight at Inglemoor. Skyline and Newport play another loser-out game just before that one, and the winner will play the No. 3 team out of WesCo 4A Saturday for a final berth.
But the main focus of this week’s notebook is on Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak. Both teams had impressive victories Tuesday to clinch state berths, so let’s get to them – and then the final segment will have some other updates and the usual bracket links.
Lake Stevens turns adversity into opportunity
The week didn’t start well for Sarah Hirsch and her Lake Stevens team.
Junior shortstop Cassidy Fifield had a doctor’s appointment Monday to have her sore right foot checked out – the day before the start of the Northwest 4A District tournament.
Hirsch, the team’s first-year head coach, jokingly told Fifield not to let the doctor put a boot on that foot. Sure enough, she got a text a little later with a picture of just that, along with the news that Fifield had a strained Achilles tendon and would be out for two weeks.
It’s a big loss for the Vikings – and not just because Fifield was their leadoff hitter with a .441 average.
“She’s just an all-around athlete and the kid you want 12 of,” Hirsch said. “She does everything 100 percent. She’s a natural leader.”
The coach knew she could count on senior Rayne Sylvester at short for half of the team’s district games – but she’d be pitching the other half, as she rotates in the circle with junior Megan Barry.
So Hirsch turned to freshman Payton Beaver, who normally starts at second base.
“I called my freshman and said, ‘I might need you to play a different position (Tuesday), and she said, ‘OK,’ like it was no big deal,” Hirsch said. “She stepped up and played lights out.”
Hirsch decided to send out a text to the remaining players Monday evening.
“I told them, ‘There’s going to be some changes in our lineup. Just make sure you’re ready to take care of yourself, and that will take care of all of us.’”
They all did just that, and the Vikings rolled into the championship game with lopsided victories over Edmonds-Woodway (14-0) and Arlington (10-0).
“Payton made some big plays, and Cassidy was her biggest fan,” Hirsch said. “Cassidy was there to support everyone else, too, and everyone else returned the favor and supported her.”
Snohomish, which failed to qualify for state last year, took care of business Tuesday by stomping Cascade (10-0) and Lynnwood (13-3).
The championship game is set for 5 p.m. at Sky River Park in Monroe, and we’ll have someone there to cover it – as well as the three loser-out games on the backside of the bracket.
Arlington, last year’s state champ, is one of four teams still alive for that third WesCo seed. The Eagles play Monroe, while Jackson meets Lynwood, both at 3 p.m. Those winners square off at 5 in another elimination game.
It will be the rubber game of the season for Lake Stevens and Snohomish. The Panthers won the first time around, 5-3, but Lake Stevens handed them their only loss of the season just two weeks ago, 8-7. The players know each other well – many playing select ball with or against each other.
“It’s always a good game,” Hirsch said.
The Vikings (18-4) have played good softball for most of the season.
“We hit the ball really well, and we run the bases really well, and it makes things happen,” Hirsch said.
They hit nearly .400 as a team, led by Barry (.484). Sylvester, the only senior who starts fulltime, is close behind at .471. Other key hitters include junior catcher Tehya Harney (.448) and junior third baseman Amie Browder (.425).
Barry and Sylvester both have ERAs under 1.50.
The Vikings had a blip to close out the regular season, losing 10-8 to Monroe just last Thursday.
“We came out flat and just couldn’t turn it around,” Hirsch said. “We struggled at the plate until the end, and spotted them too many runs.”
But they quickly righted the ship at the district tournament.
The team has embraced the coach’s philosophy of walking on the right side of the confident/cocky line, believing in themselves and taking one game at a time.
Hirsch, who played collegiately in Colorado and was an assistant high-school coach in Texas for four years before moving out here last fall, is very much into the here and now. So much so that she didn’t want to talk about making hotel reservations for the state tournament in Spokane, until Lake Stevens was assured of going.
Those reservations were confirmed Tuesday.
Glacier Peak grabs first-ever state berth
With all but two starters back from last year’s team, which finished one win shy of the state tournament, Glacier Peak had mountainous hopes coming into the season.
“We had high expectations,” second-year coach Caitlin Nies said.
A lot of those were pinned to senior pitcher Callie Bircher.
“We knew she was going to keep us in every game,” Nies said.
And that she has.
The Grizzlies finished second in the WesCo 3A South Division at 10-3, winning six of their final seven regular season games. The lone loss was to Meadowdale, 3-2, on May 12. It was the second one-run loss to the powerful Mavericks, who placed third at state last year.
Glacier Peak got some revenge in the Northwest 3A District tournament Tuesday.
After opening with a 5-3 win over Everett, the Grizzlies pulled off a 7-3 win over Meadowdale in the semifinals to clinch the school’s first-ever state berth. GP plays Ferndale in today’s championship game at 6 p.m. at Phil Johnson Fields in Everett.
“We’re excited,” Nies said. “It was a fun day.”
Nies knows a little something about state. As a senior in 2004, the then-Caitlin Noble pitched Eastlke High School to the 4A championship game against Inglemoor, where they lost 2-0. She then played at Washington and went on to become an assistant coach at Northwester State in Louisiana before taking over the Glacier Peak program last season.
Playing Meadowdale so close the first two times around gave the Grizzlies confidence going into Tuesday’s game.
“We knew we could compete with them,” Nies said. “We actually led in both of those games. That’s why it was so big (Tuesday) that we were able to keep scoring during the game and keep a distance and make it easier on our defense.”
The game wasn’t without some drama. Meadowdale had runners at second and third before Bircher induced a pop fly to second baseman Jocelyn Matheny.
“She squeezed it in and the girls did a pig-pile,” Nies said.
It was the team’s first win over Meadowdale in her two seasons as coach and served as a rematch of last year’s district semifinal, where Meadowdale won 5-3.
Glacier Peak (14-8) will have its hands full again with Ferndale, a team they beat 5-4 in extra innings in the first round of last year’s district tournament.
The Eagles improved to 21-1 Tuesday with wins over Stanwood (12-2) and Mountlake Terrace (3-1).
“We’ve just got to go out there and keep playing with a lot of energy and a lot of passion and try to keep our momentum going,” Nies said.
The Grizzlies had momentum going in the wrong directly early in the season. After winning their opener against Newport, they dropped three straight to quality 4A teams.
“We didn’t get off to the kinds of start we had envisioned, record-wise,” Nies said, “but to the girls’ credit they continued to work hard. Things started coming together about a month ago. We started getting better and more confident and we’ve been able to take it to the district championship game.”
The coach has high praise for Bircher, who has 135 strikeouts in 132 innings and a 2.60 ERA – plus a .439 batting average with 13 doubles and a home run.
“She’s an awesome competitor, and awesome teammate and an awesome student,” Nies said. “She’s our leader.”
Junior Nina Kim, who moved from catcher to shortstop this season, bats in the leadoff spot and is hitting .416 with nine doubles. Sophomore Coral Hjert has filled the void at catcher.
The Grizzlies hope to earn their first softball banner with a district championship today, but either way they’ll go into next week’s state tournament with confidence.
“WesCo is a tough conference,” Nies said. “We feel we’re battle-tested going in and can compete.”
Tournament updates and brackets
As usual, I’ll send you to the WPANetwork website for brackets – click here and navigate to the tournament you’re interested in.
There were some nail-biters in the Sea-King 3A tourney yesterday. Both Holy Names and Bainbridge won one-run games – Holy Names 5-4 over Bellevue and Bainbridge 13-12 over Liberty – to clinch state berths and advance to the semifinals along with Mount Si and Juanita.
Mount Si, which won the KingCo 3A tournament and thus was one of four teams with a first-round bye, blew past Eastside Catholic (10-0) and now plays Bainbridge. Juanita, which edged West Seattle, 2-0, gets Holy Names. Both of those games are at 2 p.m., followed by the championship contest at 4 (semifinal losers play at 4 for third and fourth places).
Four others will battle for the one remaining state berth – Liberty, Eastside Catholic, West Seattle and Bellevue.
In the Northwest 2A tournament, Lake Washington has a state berth in hand and plays Sultan in the title game tomorrow at 6:30 in Sedro-Woolley. The Kangs cruised through the first two rounds yesterday, 17-9 over Anacortes and 14-7 over Lynden.
Where’s Granite Falls, you ask? Staying home, surprisingly. After a great regular season, the Tigers went 0-2 at district, losing to Lynden (7-5) and Anacortes (9-6).
OK, that’s it for this week’s Triple Play. I’ll be back next Thursday with a look at the state tournaments.
What an exciting time in high-school softball!