PASCO -- During a preseason team dinner at Chiawana softball coach Paul Antonovich's house, the players each received a doll with a message attached.
"Success doesn't happen by spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire."
As has been the tradition for Antonovich's teams, the players threw the dolls into a bonfire, in hopes that they, too, would ignite on the field.
After going 3-9 in CBBN 4A play, the Riverhawks weren't so sure that moment would come. But it finally happened -- twice.
As the No. 6 district seed, the Riverhawks defeated two teams that swept them in league play, Moses Lake and Wenatchee, to advance to today's CBBN/Greater Spokane 4A regional tournament. Before this year, Chiawana had not won a postseason game.
"Now we're playing the way we were capable of all year," said Antonovich, whose team will face Mead at noon at Spokane's Central Valley High School.
A week before the playoffs, Chiawana lost to Moses Lake 11-4 and 13-4, but the Riverhawks came back with 21 hits in a district elimination road game to upset the No. 3 Chiefs 13-8.
"Everyone was relaxed," junior first baseman Danielle Sanaski said. "That was more of a fun game because I think people figured that we would lose, so our mindset was, 'We were (going to lose), so let's make this fun,' and we ended up coming in and winning."
Antonovich wasn't at TRAC in Pasco when his team made more program history Saturday.
He went to see his middle daughter, Megan, graduate from Saint Martin's University in Lacey, but he left the Riverhawks in the hands of assistant coaches Amanda Brummett -- Antonovich's oldest daughter -- and Wendy Dammarell.
Brummett played for her father at Pasco in the 4A state tournament in 2003 and 2004. Dammarell (nee Carroll) was on four 3A state teams at Hanford from 1996-99.
"I learned as a coach that you surround yourself with good assistants," Antonovich said.
The three coaches worked out the lineups the night before, and Brummett and Dammarell followed the plan in Saturday's first game against Richland. The Bombers won 12-2 in five innings, sending the Riverhawks into a loser-out contest against No. 4 Wenatchee, which went to state last year.
"We kind of knew that we wouldn't be able to beat Richland," said left fielder Kendra Boehning, one of two seniors. "So we had our main focus on Wenatchee. That was the game that would get us to regionals."
Chiawana put its No. 1 pitcher, Katie Axelson, in the circle, and the Riverhawks rallied from an early deficit to win 4-2, securing their first regional appearance.
Afterward, the team called Antonovich with the good news.
"We put him on speaker phone and said, 'The girls have something to tell you,' " Brummett said. "I don't think he heard a single word, just the screaming."
Boehning went with Richland to state in 2010, but even if Chiawana can't get there this season, she has enjoyed playing with the Riverhawks because of how they have surprised other teams -- and themselves.
"It's more exciting to be on an underdog team because it's like no one really cares for us and we can show them up and show what we can do," Boehning said. "You have more emotion on the underdog team because you want it more."
After handling Moses Lake and Wenatchee with the poise of a more experienced team, the Riverhawks have sent a warning to potential opponents: Don't take us lightly, or else you could get burned.