The softball regular season does not end for a few weeks, but it will feel like playoff time today in Walla Walla.
The Wa-Hi Blue Devils (5-0 CBBN 4A) will host the Richland Bombers (4-0) in a league clash that has kept area fastpitch fans riveted in recent years.
Last spring, the teams split their doubleheader and finished the regular season tied for first, but the Blue Devils beat the Bombers for the district and regional titles.
In 2010, Walla Walla swept Richland on the way to an undefeated CBBN Cascade record, but the Bombers claimed the district championship behind the pitching of then-freshman Paige Goulet. In the regional title game, though, the Blue Devils came away with a 7-2 victory.
Jerry Humphreys' Wa-Hi team is 9-0 overall, but the coach said, "We're not sure what that means yet."
The Blue Devils will get some idea when they face Richland at 4 p.m. today.
Though the Bombers (9-2) lost several key players from last year's team, including pitcher Lindsey Walchli and catcher Bethany Burch, reloading hasn't been much of an issue. Goulet and Kayla Andrews have given opposing teams fits from the circle. Also, Andrews, a sophomore, and freshman April Utecht are wowing crowds with their power stroke. Between them, they have 35 RBIs and eight home runs this season.
Richland coach Casey Emery said his players are keeping their cool in practice as they prepare to face the defending state champions.
"We're a little bit sharper as far as our focus and intensity level, but it's kind of just another week," Emery said. "I don't really sense any nervousness or anything that maybe a young team might have going against the No. 1 team in the state. I think that's a good thing. I don't think we're trying too much or pressing too much."
Richland also will ride a wave of excitement emanating from the return of shortstop Monika Hebky. The junior underwent thyroid cancer surgery late last year and needed time to recover after another procedure in March.
"I fully expect she'll be close to old Monika," Emery said.
With Hebky back, Richland will have yet another player who is well acquainted with the Blue Devil-Bomber battle.
Emery expects to start up to six seniors today. That experience will be vital against Alyson Ambler, whom Emery called "one of the best pitchers ever in our league."
Given the history between these teams, this doubleheader, intense though it might be, could add fuel to another postseason showdown or two.
"It's a fun game because both sides are motivated to play their best when they come against each other," Humphreys said.
Both teams hope the weather won't put a damper on today's doubleheader after rain hit Walla Walla on Thursday.
On Tuesday, the Blue Devils' second game against Moses Lake was postponed in the bottom of the fourth because of rain. The game will pick up where it left off at noon April 28 in Walla Walla.
State champions to face off: Reigning Class 4A state champion Walla Walla will host one game against defending 1A titlist Connell at 5 p.m. May 8.
Humphreys said the schedule finally worked out after the teams tried to meet earlier this season.
"We're looking forward to playing them," Humphreys said. "They have a great pitcher (Washington commit Ashley Thompson) and a great team around them."
CBBN 3A: Southridge must face West Valley today without pitcher/first baseman Janelle Randles, who injured her hamstring last week against Pasco.
"She did the splits trying to help a teammate, and she knew what happened right away," Southridge coach Eric Weisgerber said.
Randles did not play in Tuesday's doubleheader against Eastmont. She is undergoing therapy, but the extent of her injury is not known. Also, there is no timetable for her return. Weisgerber said she is out this week.
"Hamstrings, calves, even when you tweak them, they don't always respond the way you want them to," Weisgerber said. "It's a matter of getting work done, time, ice, a multitude of things."
Sarah Gilliam will get the majority of innings in Randles' absence.
NWAACC: Two Walla Walla Community College players will continue their careers next season at the university level.
Former Wa-Hi standout Jill McDaniels signed with Central Washington, and pitcher/outfielder Dara Kosanke will go to Utah Valley State.
McDaniels, a second baseman, is hitting .429 for the Warriors. She is the NWAACC leader in home runs (nine) and RBIs (39).
Kosanke has a .485 batting average and leads the NWAACC with 19 wins. She has a 2.60 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 1371/3 innings.