Building on a historic 2013 campaign will be the common goal this season for Grays Harbor Class 2A and 1A softball teams.
For the first time ever, teams from Grays Harbor’s four largest schools all earned state berths last season. Montesano wound up third in the state 1A tournament. Elma and Hoquiam also competed in that tourney, while Aberdeen made its third successive appearance in the state 2A event.
While the Bobcats will be attempting to compensate for the loss of their top two pitchers, the outlook is again bright this season for the area Class 1A clubs. All three of the players who shared Evergreen 1A League MVP honors last year — Elma pitcher Brooke Goldsmith, Montesano shortstop Megan Choate and Hoquiam shortstop Ellie Quercia — are back.
Veteran Montesano coach Pat Pace foresees stiff competition at the top of the Evergreen 1A circuit and some potentially epic battles at district.
“We have five teams in the district who can place, if not win, state — Elma, Rochester, Hoquiam, Woodland and us,” Pace said. “Unfortunately, one of them is going to be left behind (since the district has only four state berths). I wouldn’t be surprised to see District IV bring back multiple (state) trophies this year.”
Aberdeen and Hoquiam, meanwhile, have scheduled their annual non-league contest for noon Saturday at Hoquiam’s John Gable Park.
Previews of the area’s 2A and 1A teams:
The Eagles return eight starters from last year’s Evergreen 1A League championship team.
Chief among them is Goldsmith, who batted .562 last season and also ranks as one of the league’s premier pitchers. She’ll team with junior returnee Ashley Cooper and freshman Annie Cristelli to give Elma a formidable staff in the circle.
Elma coach Janene Todd also has few worries about her team’s offensive production.
“I believe we’ve been the (league’s) best-hitting team for the last two years and I believe that’s where we’ll stay,” she said.
Senior Stacia Burbidge, last year’s starting shortstop, will split time between that position, catcher and second base. Other probable infield starters include junior Izzy Cristelli at first base, senior all-leaguer Sydney Smythe at second or short and either junior Shayla Shumate or sophomore Emily Anglin at third base.
The Eagles are inexperienced in the outfield, with senior Mac Miller, junior Amanda Pontious, sophomore Karli Smythe and freshman Peyton Elliott battling for starting berths.
“With the majority of our team returning, I would hope to pick up where we left off last year,” Todd said. “We have a lot of versatility. I have several girls who can play two positions.”
She will be assisted by her husband, Mitchell Todd, along with junior varsity coaches Aubria Niemi and Ashley Stancil.
Hoquiam will walk into its rivalry game on Saturday with a few questions to answer on its own, plus a veteran group at its foundation.
The Grizzlies, who have been to the state tournament for the past four straight seasons, return 11 players from last year’s squad and an interesting problem for veteran HHS head coach Keith Reynvaan.
“Right now, we have more starters than positions,” Reynvaan said. “So, there will be a few battles. Hopefully (those battles) will take care of themselves.”
Leading the charge this season will be juniors Bailee Bradley (P/1B) and Ellie Quercia (SS) and seniors Kayla Hilliard (2B) and Brandi Creviston (right field). Also returning this season are: seniors Cassidy Gregg (infield), Katelynn Paladin (3B) and Taylor Walker (infield), junior Ashlynn Wakefield (left field) and sophomores Kylie Stewart (C), Hannah Hliboki (3B) and Lydia LaLonde (center field).
At catcher, Stewart and sophomore call-up Arielle Burnett will battle for the starting spot. LaLonde is penciled in at center field, according to Reynvaan, and Paladin and Hliboki will share duties at third base, depending upon who is pitching.
Bradley and Hliboki are slated as the top of the Hoquiam pitching rotation. Bradley will play at first base when not in the circle and the spot at first when she’s pitching is up in the air.
“It may take us a little bit to get into a groove,” Reynvaan said. “The kids coming back, they’re a veteran group. They were the mainstays of the team last year — Hilliard, Creviston, Bradley and Quercia — and Ellie was one of the league MVPs last year. That’s a pretty good group to draw upon. Last year, we hit the ball pretty well and we have most (of our hitters) back. Things are going well.”
Assisting Reynvaan this season are veteran coach Ed Dawson, Cori Schmid and volunteer coach Krista Bickar.
The Bulldogs sustained significant graduation losses from a club that peaked late in the season to earn a 16th consecutive state berth and a third-place state trophy.
Pace, however, remains optimistic.
“I have a good nucleus of kids with great attitudes,” he said. “We have some big shoes to fill with the seniors we lost last year, (but) I think we’ve got some big sticks in the lineup and we’ll still be very aggressive with the small ball and on the bases.”
Montesano also returns its top two pitchers in junior Madison Didion and senior Staci Schneider. They’ll be joined in the rotation by freshman Jaden Schoch.
Choate anchors an infield that will also include junior Hannah Jensen at first base, sophomore Makenzi Howard at third and seniors Rayna Ashlock and Ashley Walters dividing time at second. Sophomore Kasie Kloempken takes over behind the plate.
Seniors Lyndsy Quinn, Madi Studer and Pua Cavanah will man the outfield. Freshmen Josie Toyra, Cheyann Bartlett, Alyssa Gustafson and Hannah Quinn will also see considerable playing time.
Pace’s large staff includes Lucas Wisdom, Chris Johnson, Eric Stanfield, Eric Pyhala, Dawn and Kyle Parkin and Rob Choate.
Over the past three seasons, Aberdeen has deftly navigated the Evergreen 2A and District IV waters to make port in Yakima for the state 2A tournament.
The Bobcats’ combination of strong pitching and timely offense was anchored by a veteran defense in the field pushed the team into the state tournament. A state trophy was not in the cards during those ventures, but the journey was worth the undertaking.
For this season, Aberdeen will need to rely upon some underclassmen to lift the squad through the present and lay a foundation for the future.
“It is a rebuilding year, with some key components from last year’s state team here,” AHS head coach Jeff Timmons said. “We have three players who have been to the state tournament three years in a row. We’re really young and the girls will have to learn throughout the season. We have a goal, of course, to make it back to state for the fourth straight season.”
Seniors Alexxi Timmons (catcher, signed to play softball at Div. II Alderson Broaddus in West Virginia, Kiana Dixon (shortstop) and Stephanie Boone (center field) are the three mainstays for Aberdeen.
Returning to the fold are juniors Ericka Manwell (outfield), Shannon Chesterman (outfield) and Brianna Ashlock (3B), senior Kayla Shelton (utility) and sophomores Courtney Dietrich (infield) and Ally Jennings (outfield).
Two players not returning this year comprised of last year’s pitching staff — graduated senior Mo Donovan and now-junior Grace Utto-Galarneau (transfer to Timberline) — for Aberdeen.
Shelton, along with sophomore Erin Kuhn and freshmen Jillian Swor and Kyra Gallinger, will make up a four-arm pitching rotation. Freshmen Emily Wharton, Katelynn Reeson and Kaitlyn Hammonds will also see time on varsity this season.
“(Our pitchers) have a lot of growing up to do and what better place to do it than the Evergreen 2A Conference,” coach Timmons joked. “Between the four of them, they’re consistent in throwing strikes. We do have experience on defense and offensively, it is between our hitters — Chesterman, Timmons and Dixon. Depending upon how our youth matures during the season is where we’ll finish the season.
“Not only do we face Hoquiam (to start the season) on Saturday, but our first league contests are Centralia and Tumwater,” Timmons added. “Four of our first seven games are against the top teams in our league, which is a good test and measuring stick for the rest of the season.”
Timmons will be assisted by Katriina Reime and Aaron Glanz on varsity and Becca Zvono and Natosha Chapin on junior varsity.