Ocosta’s reigning 2B Pacific League MVP, Kaylee Barnum, sends a base hit to left field during the 1B State Championship tournament in Yakima last season. (Photo by Michael Pedersen)

Ocosta’s reigning 2B Pacific League MVP, Kaylee Barnum, sends a base hit to left field during the 1B State Championship tournament in Yakima last season. (Photo by Michael Pedersen)

2B Pacific League Softball Preview: Best league in the state?

The Pe Ell-Willapa Valley Titans and Ocosta Wildcats softball teams have been the cream of the crop of the 2B Central and Pacific leagues, respectively, in recent seasons.

This season, both teams will be competing for the same league title.

PWV joins what promises to be a talent-rich, competitive 2B Pacific League as the 2017 state champs make the move over from the Central League this season.

One of those talent-rich teams — the Ocosta Wildcats — won’t give up their league crown that easily, and if recent meetings in both the regular season and district playoffs are any indication, the two juggernauts are on a collision course for league, district and possibly state supremacy.

Here’s a look at the 2B Pacific League softball season, which gets underway this week.

Pe Ell-Willapa Valley

2018 Record: 24-5, 14-2 Central 2B (3rd in State)

Willapa Valley’s run as 2B state champions ended with a loss in the state quarterfinals to Northwest Christian (Colbert), which eventually went on to beat Napavine in the final.

Before that, the Titans lost to Napavine in the 2B District IV title game after going 14-2 in the 2B Central League in 2018.

Don’t expect PWV to take a step back this season, as the Titans lost just one key player to graduation, bringing back a host of talented all-leaguers.

Though the bat of first-team shortstop Sidney Pollard, who graduated, will be tough to replace, with five all-leaguers returning and the addition of a hard-throwing pitcher, head coach Ken Olson believes his team is primed to contend for another state title this season.

“Do I like our chances, oh yeah,” he said. Are we a confident group, absolutely, but the past is just past history and we still have to go out and prove it everyday. … and there are some solid teams here in the Pacific League.”

PWV will be led on the mound by senior starter Kamryn Adkins (3.83 ERA, 13.4, 70 K), with younger sister Katie (.476, 53 R, 31 RBI) moving over from second base to fill the void left by Pollard at shortstop.

“Her natural position is shortstop on her summer travel team,” Olson said. “Katie is every bit as talented as Sid. We shouldn’t miss anything with her at all.”

PWV head coach Ken Olson, left, high-fives Britney Patrick during the 2B District IV Championship game in May, 2018. (Daily World File Photo)

PWV head coach Ken Olson, left, high-fives Britney Patrick during the 2B District IV Championship game in May, 2018. (Daily World File Photo)

Other key returning starters are slugging junior third-baseman Britney Patrick (.545, 14 HR, 58 RBI) and fellow junior Katelyn McGough (.440, 53 R, 18 2B), who will patrol center field for the Titans.

Senior Grace Hodel returns to guide the Titans from behind the plate, and she’ll be tasked with nurturing freshman pitcher Olivia Matlock, who figures to the PWV’s second starter and is a pitcher Olson has high hopes for.

“We’re really lucky to have her,” he said. “She’s a hard-throwing kid who is one of the hardest workers I’ve seen in awhile. … She’s a big, strong kid that can throw the ball well and has a mixture of pitches.”

Blessed with youth, talent, and a state-championship pedigree, Olson offered that in order to achieve its lofty goals, his team need not become its own worst enemy.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and what we cannot do is get too up on ourselves,” Olson said. “That’s not going to work. … All it takes is a couple of injuries or those types of things and you are back to square one.”

At this early point of the season, there’s no sign that the Titans are taking success for granted, as exhibited by the philosophy they wear on their hearts.

“Championships are made in practice,” Olson said, alluding to the slogan on PWV’s practice shirts this season. “I’ve got to be a little reserved, but I think we should continue being a strength in the state.”

Ocosta Wildcats

2018 Record: 22-8, 10-0 Pacific 2B

Ocosta swept through the 2B Pacific League last season and advanced to both the semifinals of the district and state tournaments before losses to PWV and Napavine, respectively, ended the Wildcats’ title hopes.

This season, Ocosta expects to be back in the mix for district and state championship trophies as the Wildcats return 13 of 15 starters for a team that scored a prodigious 18.1 runs per game in the Pacific League last season.

“One thing we pride ourselves on is hitting,” Ocosta head coach Jason Barnum said, adding his team spends approximately six to seven hours per week honing the craft.

The Wildcats should have no problem scoring runs again this season as they return a host of all-leaguers, including league MVP, third baseman Kaylee Barnum and first-team catcher Kristi Raffelson.

The two combined to power the middle of Ocosta’s offense, with Raffelson batting .432 with 10 home runs and 39 RBI while Barnum racked up a .600 average with 16 home runs and 67 RBI in her MVP campaign.

“We’re returning all but one varsity starter,” Coach Barnum said. “We’re a pretty veteran team.”

One of the last year’s starters Ocosta will miss is ace pitcher Erika Snider, who along with starting outfielder Adrianna Huerta, graduated in 2018.

But Coach Barnum is confident second-team all-league pitcher Mekenna Fletcher and sophomore Ronni Graham will do fine in holding down the circle.

According to Coach Barnum, Ocosta has worked this off-season on shoring up its defense, which committed 73 errors in 30 games last season (2.43 per game).

“We’ve been spending a lot of time on routine defensive plays,” Barnum said of his team’s effort to play fundamentally in the field. “We’re just making sure we’re attacking the ball with good balance and good form and finishing the play with a good, solid throw.”

As stacked as the Wildcats’ lineup is, it’s hard not to see them as one of a select few teams that will be in the thick of league, district and state title races come season’s end.

“We have two solid pitchers that give us good innings. As long as we give them run support and make plays behind them, we are going to be right where we want to be,” Coach Barnum said.

Raymond Seagulls

2018 Record: 15-7, 8-2 Pacific 2B

A second place finish in league and a first-round bye in the district playoffs is not a bad way to start off a fastpitch softball program.

For the 2019 campaign, the Raymond Seagulls hope to build on that early program success.

Raymond will have to fill the cleats of two key seniors — starting pitcher Katie Doyle and her battery mate, catcher Makenna Williams — who graduated in June.

“Those two gave us a good start to our program,” Raymond head coach Steve Silvernail said before turning his attention to his current roster. “However, we were able to have eighth graders last season and those eighth graders played a big role last year.”

Raymond will look to a host of underclassmen to contribute, including freshmen Izzy Silvernail (P, INF) and Sidney Swogger (P, INF).

“We really need them to step up this year and perform on and off the mound,” Coach Silvernail said.

Sadie Warnstadt is the lone senior on a team that will feature three sophomores in key infield positions. Maddie Silvernail is slated to be the third baseman with Hannah Miller joining her on the left side of the infield at shortstop. Tegan Fluery is slated to be behind the plate for the Seagulls, who are an admittedly young group.

“Our weakness this season is that we are really young and are building a new program,” Coach Silvernail said. “We created a much tougher non-league schedule this year, which will really help us develop and the addition of PWV in our league will make our entire league stronger. We got great experience competing at districts last season.”

South Bend Indians

2018 Record: 11-7, 6-5 Pacific 2B

South Bend returns two First Team, All-League players to an Indians team that was bounced out in the first round of the 2B District IV Tournament last season.

Ace pitcher/infielder Chloe Sawyer batted .500 and scored 56 runs to lead South Bend as a freshman in 2018.

Fellow all-league player, senior Riley Hampton, will join Sawyer in the Indians’ infield after hitting .411 in 2018.

After losing second starter Karley Reidinger to the track and field team, South Bend head coach Ron Johnson is looking for some young arms to step up in her place.

“Pitching will be a challenge,” he said. “We’re working with three new pitchers and I’m asking them to give me a couple of innings each game.”

After Sawyer, who is locked in as the Indians ace, Johnson will be looking to freshman Katlyn Stigall to fill in as South Bend’s No. 2 starter.

Johnson said he has been impressed with the freshman hurler and adds that with playing time, she will improve.

“The talent is there, she just needs to build confidence,” he said.

Freshman Dayna Estle will also help eat up some innings for the Indians pitching staff.

Though there may be some question marks surrounding his pitching staff after his ace, there is no such problem with his offense.

Johnson is confident his team will be effective at the plate in 2019.

“We’re a pretty strong team considering we are slowly coming around,” Johnson said, referencing that his team features six players that didn’t play fastpitch until high school. “The girls are hitting strong and fielding the ball pretty good.”

South Bend has already had to non-league games postponed from the early schedule due to no fault but its own. The Indians were a victim of their own success, as South Bend’s deep playoff run in the recently concluded 2B State Tournament meant some of its players were ineligible (lack of practice time) for its March 8 opener against Wahkiakum and today’s away game against Rainier.

“Some of the girls were on the team, then they took the band and cheerleaders to state. That’s my entire team right there,” Johnson quipped.

With a stacked league getting tougher with the addition of PWV, Johnson has delusions of grandeur that his young team will walk away with a league title, but he does state that there is no reason why the Indians couldn’t compete with the top teams in the league.

“We should probably be up there in the top three, maybe not past PWV or Ocosta, but we should be up there pretty close to them,” he said. “Anything above .500 in s winning season in my book.”

North Beach Hyaks

2018 Record: 9-8, 5-6 Pacific 2B

Former North Beach player Jessica Preisinger takes over the helm of the Hyaks program that finished one game above .500 last season and placed fourth in the 2B Pacific League.

The first-year coach already has her hands full as the Hyaks have had two players go down with injuries before the team’s first scheduled game, a doubleheader against league-powerhouse Ocosta today (first pitch at 3 p.m.).

Though they lost just one senior (Madisen Camacho) from last year’s squad and return eight players, the Hyaks don’t possess a deep bench and will rely on five-year varsity catcher/infielder Jessy Garman and all-league pitcher Ruby Pope to lead the way.

“We have five girls that are new to the sport,” Preisinger said. “They are working hard to learn the sport and give us quality minutes on the field. We’ve also had two injuries, hopefully, they will be our last.”

Thus far, Preisinger is pleased what she’s seeing out of her leadership group.

“(Garman) is one of our strongest hitters and one of our captains,” Preisinger said of Garman before turning her attention to Pope. “(Pope) spent a lot of time in the weight room and you can tell. She is pitching faster and hitting farther.”

The Hyaks’ new coach is also looking to sophomore center fielder Letty Carcaise to contribute in the field.

“She has a strong arm and reads the ball off the bat really well,” Preisinger said.

The rookie head coach will look to a crop of talented underclassmen to contribute this season, including freshman pitcher Maddy Eang, freshman transfer Jalynah Evaro and eighth-grade Hoquiam transfer Madison Gore.

With the majority of players returning for 2019, Preisinger believes the team can be competitive.

“Our eight returning players have been great leaders on the field and in the weight room,” she said. “It is going to be an exciting, successful season for us.”