Grays Harbor’s four Class 2A and 1A softball teams were strong last year. They figure to be even stronger this season.
With a large percentage of returnees back from successful clubs a year ago, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Elma and Montesano all are expected to contend for league titles and state berths.
The Bobcats, Grizzlies and Bulldogs all qualified for state last season. The Eagles won their first-ever Evergreen 1A League fast-pitch championship in 2012, but wound up being eliminated by Hoquiam in a winner-to-state, loser-out contest for the second straight year.
All four clubs were scheduled to open their seasons this week. Weather permitting, the Aberdeen-Hoquiam contest is planned for Saturday afternoon at the Bishop Athletic Complex.
A formidable one-two pitching punch keys Aberdeen’s hopes of a third straight state appearance.
Senior Mo Donovan returns as the Bobcat ace, backed up by sophomore right-hander Grace Utto-Galarneau.
The Bobcats graduated a fair number of their top hitters from a club that advanced as far as the state 2A semifinals last season, but first-year head coach Jeff Timmons said the cupboard is far from bare offensively.
“The girls, I think, are ahead of the curve on offense,” Timmons said. “I think we’re going to surprise some people the way we can hit the ball.”
With improved team speed, Timmons also believes the Cats can effectively put the game in motion.
Junior Alexxi Timmons (about 85 percent recovered, according to her father and coach, from the broken ankle that sidelined her during the latter stages of basketball) succeeds the graduated Hannah Tometich behind the plate.
Senior Heather Dublanko is the projected starter at first base, with sophomore Brianna Ashlock at second base. Junior Kiana Dixon returns at shortstop, with Utto-Galarneau at third base when she’s not pitching.
Junior Stephanie Boone is a returning starter in left field. Sophomore Shannon Chesterman and junior Karlynn O’Connor are likely to fill the other two outfield slots.
Sophmore Ericka Manwell and junior Kayla Shelton will also figure into the mix. Coach Timmons is also high on a pair of freshmen, Ally Jennings and Kendra Larson.
Timmons, who spent two years as an assistant coach before being promoted to succeed Bill Tometich at the helm, will be aided this season by George Donovan and Katriina Reime.
The Bobcat coach projects traditional powers Centralia and Chehalis as the teams to beat in the Evergreen 2A Conference.
Versatility, very little turnover on the varsity roster and a bone to pick with a league rival marks Elma’s return to softball action in 2013.
The reigning Evergreen 1A champions return 11 players from last year’s squad, including powerhouse pitchers Brooke Goldsmith and Ashley Cooper. The team’s versatility in the field and in the pitcher’s circle will continue to be one of the Eagles’ biggest assets.
“The girls have been playing long enough together to know that if they may play in a position that isn’t normal for them; they like the change, too,” Elma head coach Janene Todd said. “Minus the pitchers and catchers, every one of those girls can play infield and outfield. When Brooke isn’t pitching, she’ll be at shortstop and Ashley will be at second or third base. They will all move around.”
The only spot on the field that Todd will have to find a replacement at is third base after the graduation of four-year starter Jodi Shumate. Jodie’s sister, Sheila, along with Cooper and freshman Emily Anglin, will fight for time on the hot corner.
This leaves seven other players moving around the infield and outfield — 1B Izzy Cristelli, 2B/OF Sydney Smythe, SS Stacia Burbidge, Inf. Nicole Shannon, OF Taylor Wilson, OF Ashlyn Malmstrom and OF Kayla Pacheco. An eighth returning player, catcher Regan Wollen, is recovering from an ankle injury suffered during the basketball season.
After achieving their goal of winning the league title, the Eagles’ season came to an end against Hoquiam in district play for the second straight year.
“Yeah, two years in a row,” Todd said. “What we’ve talked about is not going into the (district) losers bracket. We won’t put ourselves there. There’s some heartburn there, absolutely. I call it the game of odds — beat them in league, but lose to them when it counted. Hopefully, it is our turn this year.”
Todd sees Elma, Hoquiam and Montesano fighting it out for the league title and Rochester “will surprise some people. It is a rivalry and a competition between all of the girls with (Hoquiam and Montesano).”
Mitchell Todd and Chris Martin will assist Todd again this season.
Just like Elma and Montesano, Hoquiam will return to action this season with a very large nucleus of players returning to the team.
The state-qualifying Grizzlies have nine returning players, including ace pitchers Jessica Madison and Bailee Bradley, and only three of those returning are seniors — Madison, outfielder Chelsy Stewart and catcher Sam King.
“I like our pitching,” HHS head coach Keith Reynvaan said. “If they continue like they ended up last year, I can’t see anything but good things for both of them. All of our league games are doubleheaders, so we’ll going with both of them in league. We feel pretty good about the nucleus coming back and that’s a good thing.”
Hoquiam will have to replace the top-two spots in its batting order, left by graduating players Katelyn Gwinn and Celena Edwards. Gwinn, a center fielder who led the team in stolen bases at lead-off, will be replaced by Stewart both in the lineup and in the field. Stewart led the team in runs with 26 in 23 games played and was second on the team with six stolen bases.
“Chelsy moving to center is a very good thing; she covers a lot of ground and has a very strong arm,” Reynvaan said. “She’ll handle it fine.”
Junior Brandi Creviston and sophomore Ashlynn Wakefield will fill out the outfield with Stewart, while sophomore Ellie Quercia (team-leading .446 batting average) will move over to shortstop and King will anchor the infield at catcher. Junior Katelyn Paladin and freshman Lydia LaLonde will compete at third base, while junior Kayla Hilliard (team-leading 31 RBI) at second and either Madison (team-leading four home runs and second in RBI with 25) or Bradley at first base when not pitching.
“The middle of our (batting) order is very strong,” Reynvaan said. “It is a little different without Gwinn and Edwards, but we have some good middle of the order hitters and good situational hitters, too, like Stewart and Creviston. I feel pretty good about the offense this year.”
For the league this season, Reynvaan sees Elma as the team to beat, along with Montesano fighting with Hoquiam for the league title. Just as both Montesano and Elma coaches pointed out, Reynvaan agrees that Rochester has the potential to be a dark horse entry into the race.
Assisting Reynvaan this season will be longtime assistant Ed Dawson and first-year assistant Cori Schmid.
Having graduated only two players from last year’s district runner-up team, Montesano has high hopes of making a 16th straight state appearance.
Experience and depth don’t figure to be problems for the Bulldogs. Monte’s roster includes 31 players — a sufficient number for the Bulldogs to play full intrasquad games on the days they can practice outdoors.
“This is the biggest group of seniors I’ve had in a while to provide leadership,” veteran Montesano coach Pat Pace said, “and I have a lot more depth than I’ve had in multiple positions. I think our experience will show at every position, because we do have starters back at every spot.”
The Bulldogs, in fact, have no fewer than six potential starters at first base alone — seniors Lexi Prante and Kendra Warnock, junior Madi Studer, sophomore Hannah Jensen and freshmen Cortney Miller and Kasie Kloempken.
Junior Staci Schneider returns for her third season as a starting pitcher. Miller and sophomore Madison Didion round out the pitching corps.
Four-year starter Courtney Swan will handle the catching. All-Evergreen 1A League shortstop Megan Choate anchors an infield that will also include senior Justine Nuckols or junior Rayna Ashlock at second base and junior LeeAnn Rhoden or senior Melanie Landon at third base. Makenzi Howard and Ashley Walters back up Choate at shortstop.
All-leaguer Bobbi Fry, a senior, returns in center field. Other outfield contenders include juniors Carli Cairone, Lyndsy Quinn and Pua Cavanah.
While the Bulldogs will continue to play “small ball” on occasion, Pace believes his club enjoys a better mix of speed and slugging than they’ve had in recent years.
He believes the three Harbor teams — Elma, Hoquiam and his club — will battle it out for Evergreen 1A honors, with Rochester as a potential darkhorse candidate.
Monte’s coaching staff includes Dennis Prante, Chris Johnson, Eric Pyhala, Joey Kersker, Kyle and Dawn Parkin and Rob Choate.