This weekend’s Mid-Columbia softball schedule could draw statewide attention.
On Saturday, Richland and Hanford will host a mixer that includes reigning state champions Kamiakin and Connell, and Idaho Class 5A powerhouse Lake City.
After visiting Hanford in the morning, two-time defending Class 1A champion Connell will go to Columbia Playfield for a 2 p.m. game against Class 3A champ Kamiakin.
The Braves will stay at Columbia Playfield to face Richland, last year’s Class 4A third-place team, in a 4 p.m. nonconference matchup.
“If any of us local coaches say a game against one another is just another game, they’d be lying to you,” Richland coach Casey Emery said. “It’s a friendly rivalry — a lot of these girls play with each other and against each other in summer ball — but it’s Richland and Kamiakin.”
Richland took care of business last weekend when pitchers Paige Goulet and Kayla Andrews shut down Bellarmine Prep of Tacoma and Mead at home.
The Bombers produced 24 runs last Saturday, but they will face a tough task against Lake City, ranked 17th in the nation by MaxPreps. Timberwolves ace Casey Stangel, a two-time Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year, is headed to Missouri this fall.
Emery says the game will help him find the best lineup ahead of conference play. The Bombers have just four returning starters — Andrews, Goulet, shortstop Monika Hebky and catcher April Utecht.
“You can just tell there’s no complacency,” Emery said. “Everybody’s really fighting every day to prove something.”
Kamiakin is another team trying to figure out its look.
Former Kiona-Benton head coach Tim Bisson has taken over at Kamiakin, where he was an assistant to Tammy Hutchison the past three seasons. The Braves graduated their four-year battery of Lindsey Kamphuis and Jessica Miracle, who departed in grand fashion with a 28-0 record and their first state title.
Kamiakin has started 2-0 this year after Kate Austin pitched six innings last week against Central Valley and Bellarmine Prep.
Hunter Schneitter, Carlie and Cylie Richards, Melanie Oord and Emily Benson gave the Braves big offense. Their bats must come alive today against Oregon Class 5A champion Pendleton at Lawrence Scott Park, as well as against Connell and Richland on Saturday.
“We didn’t have to schedule the heavyweights, but we decided it would be good for us,” Bisson said.
Earlier this week, Connell pasted Kennewick 12-2 and 15-1 on the Lions’ field. After facing Hanford and Kamiakin on Saturday, the Eagles will complete their Mid-Columbia Conference swing Tuesday in Walla Walla against the Blue Devils, who won the Class 4A state title in 2011 and took second in 2012.
Connell and Wa-Hi met last year at Murr Field. The Blue Devils rolled 10-1, but standout pitcher/first baseman Alyson Ambler has graduated and moved on to the University of Connecticut, and coach Jerry Humphreys stepped down in August after 12 seasons.
Wa-Hi remains plenty dangerous, however. Kate Keyes’ squad hit six home runs to edge Pendleton 11-9 last weekend, and the Blue Devils feature Division I commits Kendsey Hill (Utah State) and Libbie Jimenez (Boise State).
“The big thing is if we learn our weaknesses now, it’s much better than when we get to state,” said Connell coach Andy Sawyer, who will counter with BYU-bound right-hander Ashley Thompson.