None could doubt the talent of this year’s Walla Walla High School softball team, but with a slew of illnesses keeping some of its key players off the field for huge regular season games, the squad’s luck — and therein the season — seemed to be in question.
But history has a funny way of repeating itself, as the Mid-Columbia Conference champion Blue Devils (19-3) battled adversity to wind up in pretty much the same spot they were in last season. They host Greater Spokane League champ University (18-2) in the regional title game at noon Saturday, needing to win one game before they lose two to advance to the 4A state playoffs.
Last year, Walla Walla fell to U-Hi 11-4 in the title game, then lost to Central Valley 4-3 in the loser-out, winner-to-state consolation matchup.
“Our message is ‘you can’t live in the past,’ ” Walla Walla coach Arch McHie said. “You’ve gotta blaze your own trail and get to where you need to go. Certainly we know we didn’t like that feeling, they’ve mentioned that more than once. And the best way to avoid that is to better prepare yourselves to do what you need to do.
The road to this most recent league title and shot at a regional crown was far bumpier than the last.
Walla Walla won its first seven league games, but knew trouble was on the horizon when illness sidelined ace pitcher Kamryn Coleman, caused junior third baseman Meghan Yenney to be hospitalized and kept several other major contributors — including senior captain Tara Krivoshein — from suiting up at times.
“Every spring sport here got hit pretty hard by the cold bug,” McHie said. “We only carry 11 people on the squad as a general rule, and when some of the kids were sick, we had to do some shuffling ... we had a couple of kids that had to come up and contribute, and they did.”
In the middle of that stretch, the Blue Devils split a doubleheader with Chiawana and lost a single game to Kamiakin in late April. When they eventually got most of the team healthy, they swept Hanford, got revenge on Kamiakin, 6-0, and took two from Richland — the teams were co-champs last year — in the regular-season finale to claim the MCC title with the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“Every team goes through adversity, of course, and we just had to find a way to get through it,” McHie said.
Now it’s maybe the biggest test for Wa-Hi, a University squad that faltered a bit late in the regular season, but showed its stuff in the regional playoffs by beating Hanford, 4-3, and Richland, 8-5, to get to the title game.
McHie said he spoke with those teams’ coaches, and has an idea of what to expect out of the Titans.
“They’re No. 1 up there for a reason. They just beat Richland for a reason: they’re a good team,” he said. “One through nine, they can flat hit the ball. They’re gonna score runs.”
Last year was just the second time since 2009 the Blue Devils failed to reach state. They won the 4A championship in 2011 and took second in ’12 and ’14.
OTHER SATURDAY GAMES
The loser of the 4A regional title faces a loser-out, winner-to-state game at 4 p.m., also at Walla Walla.
3A: Kamiakin travels to Seattle to play Juanita at 2 p.m. at the Southwest Athletic Complex in the MCC-GSL/SeaKing District 2 glue crossover.
2A: Othello hosts West Valley (Spokane) at noon in the CWAC-GNL crossover.
1A (AT CONNELL): Warden plays Zillah, and Kiona-Benton faces Cle Elum (times TBD) in the winner’s-bracket semifinals of the SCAC district tourney. River View plays College Place, and Naches Valley takes on Connell at 10 a.m. in the first round of the loser’s bracket, with the winners guaranteed to play a triple-header on Saturday.