With a couple of exceptions, Montesano’s 10 state softball championship seasons have two things in common.
1. There are times during the campaign when the Bulldogs appear anything but a championship team.
2. There’s usually a eureka-type moment late in the season that allows Monte to enter state riding a wave of momentum.
Both those elements were in place this year as Montesano captured the Class 1A title on its 22nd consecutive trip to state. The Bulldogs edged district rival Castle Rock in the championship game last weekend in Richland.
The Bulldogs suffered some particularly significant setbacks this season. They were annihilated by Class 4A Puyallup, 17-1, in late March. Several weeks later, they twice surrendered 10-run innings in consecutive games against Class 2B opponents (state finalists Pe Ell-Willapa Valley and Adna).
“All season long, we had a hard time getting the three elements — offense, defense and pitching — to work together,” Monte coach Pat Pace explained. “When one of them seemed to falter, we had a tough time.”
The Bulldogs struggled offensively in a 4-1 district championship loss to Castle Rock on the Saturday prior to state.
Pace, however, traditionally schedules a game — usually against a state-bound upper-classification club — between district and state. This time, Montesano hosted Woodland, which went on to earn its second consecutive state 2A title.
Woodland ace Olivia Grey, a Portland State-bound senior who allowed only one earned run all season, held the Bulldogs scoreless for five innings. But Montesano senior pitcher Lindsay Pace also blanked the Beavers.
Then the Bulldogs scratched out a couple of runs against Grey’s reliever to hand Woodland its only loss of the season, 2-0.
“That was huge,” Pat Pace emphasized. “We told the girls going in that we wanted Lindsay to keep the ball in the lower part of the strike zone and make them hit the ball on the ground. And we wanted to make the plays defensively.”
Montesano maintained its pitching and defensive excellence through the state tournament. The Bulldogs committed only three errors in four contests.
Lindsay Pace, who had been dealing with an injury to her right knee (the severity of which she evidently largely hid from her father and coach), took her pitching to a higher level at state, allowing only one run in each of her first three outings.
“She pretty much said she wasn’t going to let the knee bother her,” Pat Pace said. “She was going to pitch through the pain.”
The Bulldogs also returned to their patented short-game offense — a temptation Coach Pace resists about as often as basketball’s Charles Barkley passes up cheeseburgers — in using bunts and fake bunts effectively.
Montesano graduates only four seniors. But that quartet — Lindsay Pace, shortstop Katie Granstrom and outfielders Matti Ekerson and Lexi Lovell — represented a large portion of the team’s foundation.
In addition, the Bulldogs face the rare predicament of lacking experienced pitchers among their underclassmen.
Coach Pace acknowledged the seniors’ contributions will be missed and added they provided outstanding leadership at state.
Somehow, however, the thought persists that any Montesano softball rebuilding project won’t be too drastic.
If the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association ever converts state softball tournaments to the regional/Final Four format utilized in baseball, it would be nuts to schedule the semifinals and finals in certain classifications on fields outside Southwest Washington.
As usual, District IV teams dominated the state 2A, 1A and 2B tournaments.
The championship games in all three classifications (Woodland over Chehalis in 2A, Montesano over Castle Rock in 1A and Adna over Pe Ell-Willapa Valley in 2B) were all-Southwest Washington affairs. The latter two contests were rematches of district championship games — with different outcomes in both cases.
In all, nine of the 12 semifinalists in those tournaments hailed from District IV (including all four in the 1A tournament).
This isn’t the first time Southwest Washington softball teams have run roughshod over the rest of the state. But the cause of that dominance is still something of a mystery.
Pat Pace speculates that the strength of Southwest youth programs (Montesano alone has seven traveling age-group teams) and the proximity to other elite traveling teams based along the I-5 corridor spills over into high school ball.
Maybe so, but ambitious off-season programs haven’t translated into high school hardware for Twin Harbors schools in other sports.
The guess here is that the success of such traditionally strong high school clubs as Montesano, Chehalis and Adna has inspired other communities to upgrade their summer programs to keep pace. It’s also possible that multi-sport athletes in Southwest Washington gravitate more toward softball than in other areas of the state.
Although they fell one win shy of a state 1B trophy, Wishkah’s Loggerettes also merit a shout-out for putting together a nice state-qualifying streak of their own.
This was Wishkah’s ninth consecutive state appearance.
The state 1A softball runner-up last year, Elma didn’t enjoy the same type of postseason mojo this spring. To put it mildly.
Moments after dropping a 2-1 decision to Montesano in the state semifinals, the Eagles were forced to immediately retake the field to face Warden in a loser-out game that would determine a state trophy.
Not only is the semifinal loser at a distinct emotional disadvantage in such a situation, but Warden was also attempting to avenge a thrilling opening-round loss to Elma. The Eagles scored five times with two outs in the seventh inning to pull out a 7-4 victory.
It wasn’t surprising that Warden won the rematch, 9-5.
At least the state-ending loss was the unavoidable consequence of the tourney format. Elma’s lone district loss was harder to swallow.
The Eagles trailed Castle Rock 3-1 through 4 1/2 innings when rain forced a halt to their district semifinal.
Tournament officials initially indicated that the game would be resumed later that night, then told Elma coach Roger Elliott that it would be completed the following day.
Eventually, however, officials ruled that, since the Eagles had batted in the top of the fifth, the game was official and Castle Rock was awarded the victory.
Elliott understandably was not pleased. Arguably a more explosive offensive team than Montesano, the Eagles clearly were capable of overcoming a two-run deficit in two innings.
Although the decision followed the letter of the rules, its application doesn’t make sense for postseason contests — at least ones with state implications.
District and state officials should take steps to ensure that all postseason contests be played to a conclusion. That’s just basic logic.