It wasn’t the conventional way to win a state championship, but the 2023 Montesano Bulldogs are not a conventional team.
A little lightning wasn’t going to bother them.
Montesano returned after a lightning storm caused an overnight delay to defeat the Royal Knights 8-2 in a 1A State Championship game that spanned two days in Richland.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (22-5 overall) trailed 1-0 after No. 2 Royal (24-3) got on the board with a run on a Madison Ortega-Sanchez RBI single in the bottom of the first on Saturday.
Montesano responded with a rally in the top of the third to take the lead. Sophomore catcher Ali Parkin singled to drive in left fielder Liv Robinson to tie the game at 1-1. Sophomore shortstop Addi Kersker stepped to the plate and raked an Ortega-Sanchez pitch deep to the center-field wall. Senior second baseman Jordan Karr and courtesy-runner Alyssa Maldonado scored on the play to put Monte up 4-1.
The Bulldogs repeated their four-run, two-out performance just two innings later.
With two out and Karr on base with a leadoff double in the fifth, pitcher Riley Timmons singled to score Karr for a 5-1 lead.
The Bulldogs received a break when a dropped third strike on a passed ball by Royal catcher Randi Allred allowed Monte’s Kaila Hatton to reach first, extending the inning.
The mistake would prove costly as third baseman Alexa Stanfield drove in a pair of runs with a base hit up the middle followed by an RBI base-knock off the bat of first baseman Kylee Wisdom, staking the Dogs to an 8-1 lead.
Royal got back a run on an RBI single by freshman Jill Allred in the bottom of the fifth before Addi Lawrence popped out to Wisdom in foul territory for the second out of the inning.
With two strikes on Ortega-Sanchez, the skies suddenly opened up and lightning came crashing down, causing at least a 30-minute halt to the game. The teams were ushered into the gym as the stands were cleared during the storm.
With over a half-hour elapsed and no end to the storm in sight, the decision was made to postpone the game. But even that came with its fair share of controversy.
According to the Montesano coaching staff, the game was set to be continued at 9 a.m. the following morning, kicking off a mad scramble by coaches, family and friends to secure lodging for the night.
Shortly thereafter, the WIAA informed the coaches that due to the religious observances from some of those in the Royal contingent, the game would have to be continued at 10 p.m. that evening at a location over 70 miles away in Yakima.
Unwilling to have the teams, family and fans potentially throw away money on non-refundable hotel reservations purchased within the previous hour, the WIAA made a decision to reverse course and stick to the original plan of resuming the game on Sunday morning.
Just seven outs away from a state title, the Bulldogs would have to sleep on it.
“We had to go back to the hotel room and it was kind of chaos for awhile,” Montesano head coach Pat Pace said of the peculiar situation. “We kind of told them, ‘Hey, we have two innings tomorrow, so let’s treat it like a real game and we aren’t state champions yet. … You have to think going into this its 0-0. … Let’s try to put some more runs on the board.’ That’s the mindset the girls went into it with.”
“We just wanted to finish that game and get our trophy,” Karr said. “It didn’t matter if it was that night, the next morning, in a few hours, we just wanted to get that trophy.”
When play resumed under clear blue skies Sunday morning, Timmons struck out Ortega-Sanchez to end the fifth.
With neither team scoring in the sixth and Ortega-Sanchez stranding Wisdom at second after a two-out double in the seventh, Monte was just three outs away from arguably its most unlikely championship victory in its vaunted history.
Timmons quickly retired Kate Larsen and Jaya Griffin on ground outs, but a walk to Wardenaar, a hit batter and a Lawrence single loaded the bases for the Knights’ top hitter in Ortega-Sanchez.
Timmons first pitch to Ortega-Sanchez was flied to short left-center field, where Robinson was able to drift over and make the catch, ending the game and securing the Bulldogs’ first state title since 2019.
“It means everything,” said Karr, Montesano’s lone senior. “I’ve been wanting to win a state title since I was a little girl watching the older Bulldogs win state titles. I just wanted to be in their shoes. … I was in utter shock (after the final out). … It just felt so amazing to see it all come together. It’s a dream come true.”
“They started off Sunday as loud as they left Saturday night,” Pace said. “The kids rebounded, they’re resilient and they treated it like it was the beginning of a new game. … When I saw them celebrate, it was relief. We were finally able to show them what we have been talking about for the last 2-3 years. … It’s finally all come together and now they understand. Now, they get it.”
For Pace, who has been head coach for all 11 of Montesano’s state titles going back to 1998, this championship team was different in that it is a young team that placed second in the league and didn’t crack the top 10 in the state rankings until a walk-off victory over Hoquiam in the district-title game, a stark contrast to the typical dominant Montesano championship teams of years past.
“I’ve never had a team this young do what they did, step up and win a state title,” he said. “We graduate one senior and the rest of the kids are a sprinkle of juniors with a bunch of sophomores and freshman.”
A big key to this team’s success was building quality softball players from an early age through local softball programs at the grade-school and middle-school levels.
“I think the community involvement we have in rec softball and travel softball, just in our town, is tremendous,” Pace said. “That speaks volumes to how we are able to do what we do at the high school level. Without that, we are not where we are at.”
Montesano closed out the season winning 13 of its last 14 games, the only loss coming in a non-league tune-up to eventual 2B champion Adna 6-3 on May 13.
“We knew once we played some big teams and we beat those big teams, we started to believe in ourselves,” Karr said. “It all just clicked at the right moment and all the hard work we put in just came together.”
The Bulldogs swept through the District 4 tournament to win the district crown after going 1-2 for an early exit in last season’s tournament, and dominated each of its three opponents in the state playoff, outscoring Cashmere, Blaine and Royal by a combined 31-5.
Not too bad for a group of players that came into the season with as little postseason experience as any team in Pace’s legendary career.
“I think the two games leading up to the (championship) game really helped them,” Pace said. “By the time we got to Royal, the girls were used to the fans and I really think they were enjoying it. They got to be the center of attention and they loved it.”
“We didn’t really pay attention to the pressure and the nerves (of playing in a state tournament),” Karr said. “We all wanted that state title so bad, so it didn’t matter. We just wanted to play hard and give it our all. It really didn’t matter who we faced. We just knew what we had to do.”
Pace concluded by giving thanks to the local community that cheered on his team throughout the regular and post-season.
“We thank the community for all the support we’ve received through the season, but especially through the postseason. There were people wearing Bulldogs shirts and hats, I’ve never seen them before. I don’t know who they are,” he joked. “It was just great seeing everyone come out and root these girls on.”
Montesano 004 040 0 – 8 11 1
Royal 100 010 0 – 2 7 1
WP: Timmons (7 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 5 K). LP: Ortega-Sanchez (4.2 IP, 4 R, 0 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 4 K).
Leading hitters: Montesano – Wisdom (3-3, 2B, RBI); Karr (2-4, 2 R); Robinson (1-4, R); Kersker (1-3, 3B, 2 RBI); Timmons (1-4, RBI); Parkin (1-4, 2 RBI); Stanfield (1-4, R, 2 RBI); Potts (1-3, R); Jones (0-2, R); Maldonado (0-1, R). Royal – Wardenaar (2-3, 2B, R); Allred (2-2, 2B, R, RBI); Ortega-Sanchez (1-4, RBI); Lawrence (1-4).