Three Grays Harbor teams are poised to possibly end a Southwest Washington mini-drought at the state 1A softball tournament.
Wishkah, meanwhile, is hoping the third time is a charm at the 1B tourney.
Montesano, Elma and Hoquiam will head to Richland for the state 1A tournament beginning Friday at the Columbia Playfields. All three, plus 2013 state runner-up Woodland, are ranked among the tourney favorites.
Although Southwest Washington teams once dominated this tournament, no team from District IV has captured a title since Castle Rock went all the way in 2010. Montesano was the last Harbor team to win state, in 2009.
That has been largely due to Connell, which rode the all-around talents of former Grays Harbor resident Ashley Thompson to a state three-peat in 2011-13. With the graduation of Thompson (who started as a freshman at Brigham Young University), the 1A tourney is considered more wide-open this year.
Having won one state contest in each of the last two years, Wishkah (13-3) is looking to take its state performance to the next level at the 1B tournament beginning Friday at the Gateway Sports Complex in Yakima. The Loggerettes take on Touchet at 1 p.m.
Both modified double-elimination tournaments (in which first-time losers remain eligible for a state trophy but are out of title contention) are scheduled to conclude Saturday.
Veteran Montesano coach Pat Pace ranks all four of the District IV representatives among the title contenders at Richland.
“Hoquiam’s got the bats, we’ve got the defense, Elma has Brooke Goldsmith and Woodland has the overall package,” Pace summarized.
Connell, despite only placing second in its district, is still rated among the tourney elite, as are Warden and Lakeside of Nine Mile Falls.
Woodland opens against Lakeside, but the three Grays Harbor teams all avoided other tourney favorites in the opening round. District IV champion Montesano (19-4) faces Nooksack Valley and Hoquiam (17-5) takes on Okanogan at 10 a.m., while Elma (10-9) opposes Zillah at noon on Friday.
Pace describes Nooksack Valley as a “scrappy team” that won four loser-out district contests simply to make it to state.
“Our keys are to stay focused and stay hydrated, because we will be playing in weather that we’re not used to,” he said. Temperatures are forecast in the mid-90s in the Tri-Cities this weekend.
This has been a classic Montesano team that has relied on pitching and defense for much of the season. Junior Madison Didion (10-3 overall and an 0.85 earned run average in league play) will shoulder the bulk of the pitching load at state.
Freshman Allyssa Gustafson provided some long-ball power at district, including a two-run walk-off homer in a dramatic semifinal win over Woodland. For the most part, however, the Bulldogs rely heavily on slapping, bunting and aggressive baserunning to put the pressure on their opposition.
Rayna Ashlock leads Monte in hitting with a .492 average. Makenzi Howard is batting .423 and Gustafson .400.
Elma’s record is deceptive, as the Eagles demonstrated in a convincing state-clinching victory over Hoquiam.
Used more sparingly in the pitching circle during the regular season than in the past, the hard-throwing Goldsmith was impressive in district wins over Hoquiam and La Center. The senior also provides a formidable presence as Elma’s leadoff batter.
Most of Elma’s offensive punch has been at the top of the batting order, with Sydney Smythe, Izzy Cristelli and freshman Peyton Elliott following Goldsmith in the lineup.
Hoquiam was the Evergreen 1A League’s highest-scoring team for most of the season, but Grizzly coach Keith Reynvaan said his team will need to revert to its early season form to make an impact at state.
“I think we’ve been playing pretty well defensively, but we haven’t hit the ball well the last few weeks,” Reynvaan asserted. “We’ve got three or four (batters) hitting the ball right now. We’ve got to get the rest of the girls going.”
One Grizzly assuredly not in a slump is senior second baseman Kayla Hilliard, who is batting .606 with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs in 22 games. Kylie Stewart is batting .444, Ellie Quercia .429 and Bailee Bradley .400 with 22 RBIs.
Bradley (8-3 for the season) returned from illness to pitch briefly on the final day of district. Depending on her health, she will likely draw the pitching assignment against Okanogan, with Hannah Hliboki (9-2) likely to see considerable action in the circle at state.
Hoquiam routed Okanogan at state last year, but Reynvaan noted that the Bulldogs were missing their top pitcher in that contest.
Wishkah is a rare state qualifier that needs to shake off some competitive rust. Due to the absence of a district tournament, the Loggerettes (who were awarded the top-seeded berth in District IV) have played only one doubleheader in the last couple of weeks.
Loggerette coach Tove Reibel isn’t that concerned.
“We’ve had a long layoff, but the girls have been focused and are working hard,” she said.
The Loggerettes will be facing a familiar foe in Touchet. The Indians eliminated Wishkah from state last year, 10-0.
Touchet used its short game effectively in that contest. Wishkah, consequently, has been focusing on bunt defense in practice.
Wishkah senior Teagan Louthan will be closing out a stellar prep career in this tournament. Louthan is 13-3 as a pitcher and boasts a sensational walk-to-strikeout ratio (eight bases on balls and 123 strikeouts for the season). She also leads the team in hitting with a .583 average.
Emily Olson (.523), Aleah Park (.471) and Ally Ancich (.462) are among Wishkah’s other top hitters.
With the exception of Louthan and a few others, the Loggerettes are relatively inexperienced, but Reibel believes this team possesses some assets that some past Wishkah teams lack.
“We’re coming in as a stronger defensive team than we’ve been in the past and we’re more focused mentally than we have been,” said the Wishkah coach.
Seeking a sixth consecutive state championship, Colton is in the opposite half of the bracket from Wishkah. The Wildcats open against Oakville on Friday.
10 a.m. — Cashmere vs. Mount Baker; Montesano vs. Nooksack Valley;Hoquiam vs. Okanogan, Coupeville vs. Warden. Noon — Elma vs. Zillah; Medical Lake vs. Seattle Christian; Connell vs. Lynden Christian; Woodland vs. Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls).
1 p.m., Curlew vs. Pateros; Wishkah vs. Touchet; Oakville vs. Colton; Quilcene vs. Almira/Coulee-Hartline.