RICHLAND – The Montesano Bulldogs softball team can call itself state champion once again.
Montesano (22-5 overall) earned a hard-fought 5-4 win over Castle Rock to claim the 1A State championship on Saturday at Columbia Playfield in Richland.
Montesano picked up its 10th state softball title on the back of a solid defense and the tireless effort of starter Lindsay Pace, who pitched all but one inning of her team’s four games in the tournament.
One of the biggest defensive plays of the day for the Bulldogs came in the top of the seventh inning when Castle Rock’s Logann Golden hit a fly ball to deep center field. Golden appeared to be destined for extra bases until Monte center fielder Lexi Lovell ranged back within a few feet of the fence to make a snowcone catch.
Lovell’s clutch catch kept the bases clear for Castle Rock power hitter Zoe Naulge, who hit a home run later in the inning to cut Montesano’s lead to 5-4.
“The first thing that went through mind was, ‘If I don’t catch this, we’re going to lose. I have to catch this ball right now or bad things are going to happen,’” Lovell said. “I knew it was going back so I started to drop-step back. I thought I was going to run in the fence, but if I did I wouldn’t have cared as long as I made an effort.”
Monte was protecting a 5-3 lead at the time and saw the lead cut in half with a solo shot over the right field fence from Zoe Naugle.
Pace was encouraged to stay focused by the coaching staff following Naugle’s home run and eventually got Kerianne Cline to pop out to Janessa Otterstetter to end the game.
Feeling the gravity of the moment, Pace shed tears of joy upon delivering the final pitch of her high school career, one that secured Monte’s second championship in three seasons.
“I’m not going to lie, I was crying during the last pitch I threw,” she said. “Softball was my life for so long and now my high school career is over and it’s really hard to take in.”
Pace’s workload became a factor as the tournament and the state-title game continued. The right-hander was instructed by coaches to sit and rest in the shade between innings and was often reminded to stay hydrated when she wasn’t in the circle. Bulldogs coaches also opted to have a courtesy runner come in for her whenever she did reach base.
Montesano head coach Pat Pace said he asked his pitcher to dig deep to make it through seven innings.
“She and the Castle Rock pitcher (Payton Kessler) battled and pitched every game in this tournament and it was a battle of will to see who could outlast the other one,” he said. “We were just pushing for (Lindsay Pace) to keep firing hard and keep her focused and not let anything bring her down.”
The Bulldogs were familiar with Castle Rock (20-6) as Monte lost the District IV championship game 4-1 to the Rockets a week ago. Coach Pace was critical of his team’s offensive approach against Kessler and said after that game that he wanted his team to exhibit more patience at the plate.
Instead of swinging for the fences, Monte opted for a small-ball approach to start the game. The Bulldogs scored their first run of the game with a bunt that was followed by a Pace sacrifice fly.
Monte then hit three more singles in the inning, including an RBI base hit from Otterstetter to put the Bulldogs up 2-0 in the first frame.
The Bulldogs used another sacrifice bunt in the second inning to set the table for Matti Ekerson, who singled to right to score Lovell.
Though the Bulldogs have had higher run-scoring games, Lovell said Saturday’s title game was one of Monte’s best offensive displays of the season.
“We were chipping away and I think that’s how you play a state-championship game,” she said. “I don’t think it all happens in one play and that was some of the best offense we’ve ever had.”
Monte built what looked like a comfortable lead with runs in the third and fourth innings to go up 5-1 headed into the fifth, but the Rockets didn’t go quietly. Katie Montgomery hit a solo home run to start the Rockets half of the inning and Naugle tacked on an RBI-single later in the frame to push the score to 5-3.
Though the game was tighter than he had hoped for with Naulge seventh-inning solo shot, Coach Pace wasn’t complaining after seeing his team lift the trophy. He had seen it nine times before and said watching this team celebrate what is his 10th state championship as a head coach still feels special.
“This is number 10 and each time it feels like it’s brand new. With every group we coach, we always want the seniors to go out on a big bang. When you win a state title, there’s no bigger bang than that. To have my daughter (Lindsay Pace) as one of those seniors is an unbelievable feeling right now.”
Montesano 211 100 0 – 5 12 0
Castle Rock 100 020 1 – 4 8 1
WP – Pace (8 H, 4 ER, 2 K, 2 BB); LP – Kessler (12 H, 5 ER, 4 BB)
Top Players: Montesano – Ekerson (RBI, 2 H), Jensen (2 H, RBI); Castle Rock – Naugle (3-3, 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Montgomery (HR)
1A State Tournament
Montesano 2, Elma 1
When Montesano and Elma softball teams get together to renew the East County rivalry, it’s always a big deal. But none was bigger than this.
In the third and most important meeting between the two 1A Evergreen League rivals this season, Montesano came away with a 2-1 victory in a 1A State semifinal game on Saturday in Richland.
Monte (22-5) broke the seal on the game with a single from Lindsay Pace that drove in Matti Ekerson in the third inning to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
Elma’s Kali Rambo responded in the bottom of the inning with an RBI-single of her own that plated Chloe Clark and tied the game at a run apiece.
Emma Jensen picked up the eventual game-winning RBI with a sacrifice fly in the fifth that put Monte back on top 2-1.
Elma (23-4) had trouble putting pressure on Montesano pitcher Lindsay Pace and only got a runner into scoring position once the rest of the contest.
One of the Eagles’ best chances to tie the game came with an unfortunate injury as Pace’s pitch hit Quin Mikel on the forearm, causing her to be pulled from the game.
Pace pitched out of the jam without any damage done to the lead, but the damage done to Mikel’s forearm left her status for the next game in doubt.
“She might play first base for us or bat for us, we’ll see,” said Elma head coach Roger Elliot ahead of a consolation-bracket game against Warden. “It’s hurting her pretty bad. It hit her in a bad spot. She can move her fingers, so that’s good.”
Elma’s Destry Dineen took over in the circle for Mikel and pitched a scoreless seventh inning.
Pace allowed a walk to Jalyn Whipple in the seventh but didn’t get into any real trouble as she struck out Chloe Clark to end the contest and send Monte to the state-championship game.
Montesano head coach Pat Pace had a hard time putting his thoughts into words after the emotional win and gave credit to Elma for being one of the best teams on its schedule.
“This game feels great because we beat a really, really tough team. I have nothing bad to say about Elma. They are the toughest team we play every year.
Montesano 001 010 0 – 2 10 0
Elma 001 000 0 – 1 2 3
WP – Pace (2 H, 10 K, 3 BB); LP – Mikel (6 IP, 8 H, ER, 5 K)
Top Players: Montesano — Pace (3-4, RBI), Jensen (2-3, RBI), Eckerson (3B, R); Elma – Rambo (RBI).
Warden 9, Elma 5
Elma was forced to settle for sixth place in the 1A State Tournament after suffering a 9-5 loss to Warden in the consolation bracket on Saturday at the Columbia Playfield in Richland.
Elma didn’t get off to the start it was looking for with the Cougars putting up four runs in both the first and second innings.
Down 8-0, Elma showed signs of life in the second inning. Destry Dineen got the offense going with a single that drove in Molly Johnston.
Elma’s Chloe Velasco followed that up with a sacrifice fly and Jalyn Whipple used a single drive in a run.
Elma was down 8-3 after two innings and couldn’t quite get the scoring to close the gap.
Dineen started the game and was moved to second base in the second inning as Quin Mikel pitched the remainder of the game despite suffering a forearm injury in the state semifinal earlier against Montesano.
Though it wasn’t the end to the season he was hoping for, Elma head coach Roger Elliot gave credit to his seniors for leading the way to state.
“They had a great year and played hard. I appreciate all the effort they gave me and they are always welcome back,” he said. “I’ll try not to cry when I see them, but I appreciate all their efforts and I’ll miss them.”
Warden 440 100 x– 9 10 2
Elma – 031 0100 – 5 6 3
WP – Kiana Rios (3 ER, 3 K, 3 BB); LP – Dineen (2 IP, 6 ER, 2 K)
Top Hitters: Bailey Whitney (2 RBI, 2 R), Leanne Martinez (2 RBI, 2 R), Rios (3 R, 2 RBI, 2B); Elma –Whipple (RBI, BB), Dineen (RBI), Kali Rambo (HR, 2 R).