Connell is the two-time defending Class 1A state champion, and the Eagles don’t appear likely to give up the crown anytime soon. Connell coach Andy Sawyer calls Ashley Thompson one of the best pitchers in the state, and she has earned that accolade with a 0.53 ERA and 96 strikeouts this year. While Thompson is getting things done in the circle, the Eagles are high performers at the plate. McKenna Mathis (.545), Michelle Schultz (.522), Hope Sawyer (.636) and Thompson (.619) are batting over .500. Schultz has been on a power streak, with five home runs in 23 at-bats.
When Mabton left for the SCAC West, Warden moved back up from the B ranks, where it dominated in 2011 and 2012. The Cougars are an established presence at the 1A level, where they reached state in 2003, 2005-08 and 2010. Iris Rodriguez regularly records double-digit strikeouts and is a lethal hitter. Warden returns seven players, and they are determined to improve on their combined 1-4 performance at state the past two years.
Whereas Connell has Thompson for one more year and Rodriguez still pitches for Warden, River View has had to move on without all-leaguer Haley Hess (6-3, 2.67 ERA in 55 IP). Kaylee Lozier has pitched the Panthers to a 2-0 start in league. With 15 RBIs in seven games, Ashley Dickinson has continued where she left off last year (.643, 21 RBIs in league).
Brittany Cotsford boasts a dangerous arm — and bat — for Columbia (Burbank). The senior struck out 18 and went 6-for-8 in the Coyotes’ SCAC East-opening doubleheader against River View, and she had 12 Ks against Mabton. Fellow all-leaguers Rachel Roberts and Christina Reisenauer are back for Columbia (Burbank), which went 1-2 at the SCAC 1A District Tournament last year. The Coyotes likely will be in the playoff hunt again this spring.
Kiona-Benton is finding its way after Brittany Vickerman and sisters Alex and Dyoni Shuster transferred to Connell. Emily Thornton and Kayley McGhan have split time in the circle since the Bears lost No. 1 pitcher Shuster, an SCAC East first-teamer who batted .500 last year. Second-teamer Kiley Smith (.440) is back in the lineup.
Seila Jenks and Haley Delgado, all-league honorable mentions last year, give Royal a leg up in the pitching department. New coach Robyn Valdez is excited about the potential of sophomores Kailee Harris, Flor Araujo, Samantha Eilers and Hannah Larson. Eilers have five RBIs as the Knights opened league play with a sweep at Ki-Be.
Wahluke forfeited its season in 2011 because of a lack of players, but the Warriors played every game last spring under first-year coach Aaron Moen.
DeSales has brought back its entire starting lineup, including pitcher Ashlyn Lyons, who has helped the Irish place at state two of the past three years. Though Lyons continues to get the bulk of the innings, her younger sister Allesyn and eighth-grader Kaylee Brown could see some action. The Irish have welcomed back infielder Ali Zander and outfielder Megan Hamada from knee injuries.
Dayton returns eight starters, including all-leaguers Sam Harting, Sarah Phillips and McKayla Bickelhaupt. The Bulldogs went to state the past two years but did not place. Impact players Bickelhaupt, Harting, Malia Frame and Jessica Tate are striving to finish their prep careers with a trophy.
Waitsburg-Prescott has moved some players around, including Katy Hofer from third base to shortstop and Chelsey Brannock from short to catcher. One position that has remained static is pitcher. Senior Jennifer Nichols, a first-teamer last year, is the No. 1, but coach Angie Potts is looking to the future. Freshman Jaidyn Brown has demonstrated impressive control and is working to up her velocity.
Tri-Cities Prep is in rebuilding mode after losing six starters, including second baseman Kelci Young (ACL injury) and all-league first baseman/pitcher Victoria Nunez, who is running track at Chiawana. Junior shortstop Mary Hoppes is the only upperclassman on the team. Pitcher/first baseman Victoria Vargas and catcher/third baseman Francine LaHoz will start again as sophomores.
In 1B, Touchet lost three players from last year’s fourth-place state team, including catcher Josie Sewell, who moved out of state. Those losses don’t appear to have hurt the Indians much: They’re off to a 4-0 league start. Senior first baseman Kristen Warner is the team’s biggest hitting threat, and junior pitchers Makayla Bishop and Harlie Schaeffer have stepped up to fill the void left by the graduated Nicole Brown.
Liberty Christian is another year older and another year wiser. All of the Patriots’ 2012 starters have returned, including all-league first-team battery Kiersten Peterson (sophomore) and Sarah Croskrey (junior). With Reilly Walker, Miranda Nesbit, Erin Williams, Courtney Grant and Sam Long graduating this year, however, the Patriots need to plan ahead, especially in the infield.