State Softball Preview: Five Twin Harbor teams prep for state tournaments

From the first day of practice this Spring, teams from across Washington have dreamed of playing on the state’s biggest stage. Countless drills have been done with the state softball tournaments in mind. Now, for five Twin Harbors teams, the dreams will become a reality this weekend.

While for some teams like Montesano, which makes its 20th straight trip to state, or Wishkah, which makes its seventh straight trip, heading to state has become old hat, Ocosta will make its first appearance in a state tournament field.

For Pe Ell-Willapa Valley and Hoquiam, this tournament is a chance to take care of some unfinished business from past years. The Titans have come up one win short of placing each of the past two seasons and the Grizzlies, who missed the tournament last year, finished second the last time they were in the field in 2015.

No matter whether it is the first or the 20th tournament, the fields are set and these teams are ready to lay everything on the line for the chance to bring some hardware back to the west side of the state.

Class 1A

After meeting in the state title game in 2015, Montesano and Hoquiam head back to the state 1A tournament at Columbia Playfields in Richland. The Bulldogs and Grizzlies are on the same side of the bracket so if they were to meet it would be in the semifinal instead of the title, but both teams have eyes fixed on the trophy.

Montesano will begin its quest for a ninth state title with a first round matchup against Zillah at noon on Friday. While the Leopards rallied to defeat College Place 6-5 to earn the No. 3 seed out of the South Central Athletic Conference, the Bulldogs have played some of their best softball recently to roll to a 5-0 win over La Center for the District IV title.

Part of the Bulldogs success as of late stems from the pitching of ace Samantha Stanfield. The junior struck out 18 against Hoquiam before recording 14 strikeouts in the district title game and then followed up with pitching a 1-hitter against District IV 2A tournament champion Chehalis on Monday.

“This is the Sam I thought we were going to have day one,” Montesano head coach Pat Pace said. “I knew she could dominate in the circle. Having her where she is at makes a difference in how we approach the game.”

With a group that features nine seniors, Montesano has plenty of experience to get the job done. The Bulldogs are serious about taking the title, but for Pace one of the keys is take make sure they aren’t too serious. From fun shaped rally hats to coaches making jokes, there has been plenty of laughter in the Bulldogs dugout this season and Pace wants his team to have fun as the run continues.

“This team is jelling because of the maturity and senior leadership,” Pace said. “It is bringing this team even tighter as we go into the final week of the season. They are just as focused as every group that we have brought over.”

Hoquiam felt plenty of pressure at districts on Saturday. The Grizzlies battled back from behind to defeat Forks 14-7 in the first of back-to-back loser-out games before edging Elma 5-4 in nine innings to win the districts final state spot.

Now, Hoquiam will begin state tournament play against Deer Park at noon on Friday. The Grizzlies did plenty of celebrating after earning their state berth, but it has been all business since. Hoquiam’s strong defense has been the key factor in the Grizzlies run, but they have spent extra time in the batting cages trying to overcome any weaknesses offensively going into state.

“We are playing very good defense right now and English (Hyde) is throwing well,” Hoquiam head coach Keith Reynvaan said. “We are still not hitting the ball as well as we would like, but we have come up with some clutch hits as of late. We know that we can hit the ball, it is just a matter of putting hits together.”

After facing plenty of adversity at districts, the Grizzlies come into the state tournament not really worrying about what the Stags have to offer, but simply preparing to play their best softball at the right time.

“You worry about yourself and just get the kids ready to play,” Reynvaan said. “The girls never give up. We found ourselves in a lot of tough games this year, but they just keep going and we always have a chance to win.”

Class 2B

This is the first time in recent memory that the two District IV 2B league champions — Pacific 2B champion Ocosta and Central 2B champion Pe Ell-Willapa Valley — will both be at the state 2B tournament at Gateway Sports Complex in Yakima.

For Ocosta, this weekend’s games are the continuation of a historic season — league title, a 3-2 record in the district tournament and the school’s first-ever state tournament berth. This is new territory for the Wildcats.

“We’ve been trying to keep them busy, to keep their minds off of it,” Ocosta head coach Jason Barnum said. “It is a big deal, but we have to treat it like any other tournament. They’re taking it all in and not taking this for granted.”

Ocosta’s trademark this season has been its potent offense at the plate. The Wildcats own a .402 batting average as a team, led by Kaylee Barnum’s .657 average, with 16 home runs and 61 RBI. Mekenna Fletcher added a .514 batting average, with 37 RBI as well.

The poor weather sent Ocosta into the hitting cages a bit more than normal and the work paid off.

“In the beginning, we worked in the batting cages a lot,” Ocosta junior pitcher Erika Snider said. “Coach says ‘If you want to win, you’ve got to hit.’ Then, this season, we go from 5:30 to 7 in the morning, three times a week, then we have study hall for half an hour and then we have practice until six. We just work on all the hitting and the mechanics of outfield and infield. It was just a bunch of hard work.”

Snider’s work in the circle has also been beneficial to the Wildcats and she’s benefited from the offensive output. Together with Fletcher, they’ve finished with a 0.88 ERA this season before the district tournament.

“We’re going to go to state, swing the bats like we know we can, put the ball in play and pitch well,” Jason Barnum added. “If we do that, we’ll see where the chips fall.”

Pe Ell-Willapa Valley has plenty of experience at the state tournament. The Titans, in their third year as a small-school combine, are 3-for-3 in state tournament berths. In their last two appearances, they lost in the consolation semifinals to the eventual fourth-place teams — Morton-White Pass in 2015 and Brewster in 2016.

This year, PWV is a power slugging, hard-throwing club that has rolled through the league and district schedules to get to Yakima. Its only loss came against Montesano, a scintillating 7-6 non-league decision that went down to the final outs.

“Well, you can’t argue with that type of success,” PWV head coach Ken Olson said. “We were sharp in all phases of the game. Without question, we are currently playing some awfully solid softball.”

Led by Dakota Brooks in the circle (0.86 ERA, 13-0 record with 12 complete games, nine shutouts) and at the plate (.585 batting average, 45 RBI and six home runs), the Titans have been potent all season, hitting .511 as a team and just 37 strikeouts in 699 plate appearances.

Both PWV and Ocosta are on the same side of the bracket with 9 a.m. Friday first-round contests — PWV vs. Liberty Bell and Ocosta vs. Dayton. Two wins by both teams will set up a championship semifinal matchup at noon on Saturday.

Class 1B

Wishkah Valley has been the most consistent softball program going to state in the small schools on the Twin Harbors. This weekend’s state tournament will be its seventh straight trip and the Loggerettes are itching for a longer stay in Yakima.

In their first four trips to Yakima, the Loggerettes grabbed at least one win to extend their stay into Saturday’s games. In 2012, Wishkah won its first opening-round contest in school history, a 5-1 win over Klickitat, to get into the state semifinals before falling after two straight losses.

Wishkah enters this weekend’s state tournament as the No. 3 seed out of the Tri-District tournament, beating Rainier Christian last Saturday in the district third-place game. It’ll take on Colton in the opening round.