Carl’s in Charge: District IV was that good

I have to admit it, I took it for granted.

Each year, I look up the dates for the state softball tournaments and write them down in pen on my calendar. A couple months later, I make my hotel arrangements in the Tri-Cities. I buy spray-on sunscreen, aloe vera lotion and a case of water for the trip. I’m all ready to head to Richland for the 1A state softball tournament at Columbia Playfields. The only question left is which teams I’ll be covering.

For the last four years, there are two certainties in May. One, I will have a sunburn leaving me with the complexion of a ripe Roma tomato and District IV schools will be in the state title game.

In my time covering the state tournament, the district including the Evergreen 1A and the Trico Leagues has gone 43-15 — with Elma winning the title in 2014, La Center taking the title in 2016 and Montesano with championships in 2015 and the Bulldogs’ 8-2 victory over La Center on Saturday for the 2017 title.

Not only has the district won the state title each of the last four years, only four teams to get out of the district tournament and earn a berth to state have come home without placing in the top four at state and none of the 14 teams have failed to win at least one game.

I will admit that according to the Brendan Carl eye test, this year’s tournament may have been the weakest I’ve seen in my time. It seemed the only competition standing in the way of District IV was other teams from District IV. The only two losses teams from the district suffered were to other district teams.

While watching the first-round game between College Place and Chimacum, I had an epiphany. As I waited for the two teams to finish so that Hoquiam and Deer Park could take the field, the game went into extra innings tied 12-12. Chimacum had a chance to end the game in the seventh, but the player on third waited too long to tag on a pop fly and was tagged at home.

The Cowboys then proceeded to fall off the horse as they made several errors to gift College Place three runs. The pitcher for College Place was throwing about 10 miles an hour slower than all three of the District IV pitchers, but she was able to get Chimacum out and end the game.

I thought ‘Man, these teams are terrible. Their defense is sloppy, their pitching is hitable and they are making mental errors.’ That is when it hit me, maybe it wasn’t that the other teams at state were bad, but the teams I cover are just that good. It was a realization worthy of a blockbuster comedy as my character turns slowly to toward the screen and everything else fades as the camera zooms in just to hear a kitchen timer go off in my head. Ding.

In my four years, I have had the pleasure of watching some great coaches and truly great players. The three 1A programs in Grays Harbor, Elma, Hoquiam and Montesano, have managed to peak at the right time every season. In 2014, Brooke Goldsmith heaved the Eagles onto her back and played four of the best games of her career in the circle to win the title. In 2015, Hoquiam and Montesano battled back-and-forth in classic games during the season, met in another unforgettable district title game and were destined to meet in the title game.

This year, Montesano marched toward the title undeterred by any bad innings or defensive errors. The Bulldogs were the definition of a Juggernaut as they scored eight or more runs in all four games on their way to picking up the title.

Back at the beginning of the season, I took a photo of six Montesano players as a feature photo for the softball preview. Montesano’s Hannah Quinn, Lindsay Pace, Samantha Stanfield, Annie Cristelli, Allyssa Gustafson and Morgan Kersker posed with their bats as the rain poured down. Then why would I be surprised at all when they would rain down hits on the rest of the state in the final weekend of the season.

One of my favorite games that I watched this season happened about a week before the district tournament when Pe Ell-Willapa Valley traveled to face Montesano. I joked that it would be the matchup between the 1A and 2B state champions. Now, for any of you wanting me to do any handicapping work, my expertise apparently is limited to high school softball and women’s collegiate bowling.

I think the only thing more enjoyable than watching the teams battle to a 7-6 win for the Bulldogs, was it was the first warm weather of the spring. However, seeing the Titans play solid defense and hit the cover off the ball behind the pitching of Dakota Brooks helped open my eyes to the talent around District IV at all levels.

Since 2002, every Class 2B state champion has come from District IV. While Ocosta made noise this year to earn the school’s first state berth and give the Pacific 2B League some representation, the Central 2B League has been the class of the state. In the last decade, eight of the 10 title games have been between two Central teams, including the Titans’ 10-1 win over Napavine on Saturday.

Chehalis also brought home a big trophy to District IV when the Bearcats won the 2A state title.

There could be countless columns on why District IV rules 2B, 1A and 2A softball, but this is not one of those columns. My guess is a combination between the feeder programs, coaches who have forgotten more about softball than I will ever know, players who work hard and are driven toward success and parents and fans who support those players. In reality, there is probably something in the water.

This is a column to say don’t do what I did the last four years people, apply sunscreen liberally, find shade and drink plenty of water, but most importantly, go out and watch District IV softball. Enjoy the games and savor the competition. Don’t take it for granted when you make your reservations for Richland, Yakima or Selah next year, instead look back on the season and say ‘Man, we are that good.’

Brendan Carl: (360) 537-3954;; Twitter: @DW_Brendan