The Connell High School softball team fell short of the Class 1A state final last year after winning the previous three championships.
They hope that, starting with Friday’s first-round contest against La Center at Columbia Playfield in Richland, they can pave a path back to the title game.
“I don’t think we focused as small as we needed to,” third baseman Savannah Egbert said of last season’s state tournament losses to eventual champion Elma and Woodland. “The difference is we’re focusing on every game like it’s the state championship game. We’re focusing on La Center being the best team in the tournament because that’s how we’ve got to come out playing.”
The Eagles also are motivated to shut down people who have said the team isn’t as strong without pitcher Ashley Thompson, who posted a 0.19 ERA and a .667 batting average as a senior in 2013 before going to BYU.
“One thing we’d hear is that our defense wasn’t good. She never put the ball in play, so we never got the chance to play defense, but we ended up making it to the state semifinals with some of the same infielders we had then,” said Egbert, who has signed to play college softball at Oregon State.
“Ashley’s a great person, a great athlete, but we’ve got other athletes, too. We’re a great team, too. We’re not focused on one person.”
McKenna Mathis moved from shortstop to pitcher after Thompson graduated. She says the expectations were much higher on Thompson than on her, which has been helpful.
“The good thing about it is I’m going to Utah Valley (University) to play outfield, not pitch,” Mathis said. “If I fail, I’m not a pitcher, whereas if she failed, she’s a pitcher. I didn’t really have the fear of failing because I knew I could, but people doubting me pushed me so much more.”
Another so-called knock against the Eagles is that only two of them — Egbert and Mathis — play club ball. Other players have compensated by working on their fitness during the summer and winter.
The offseason efforts have paid off this spring. The Eagles (21-2) ran the table in the SCAC East and won all three of their district games.
“Becca Harrington, she hit two home runs in our game the other day. She’s been hitting them out left and right,” Mathis said. “And Kendra Halbert, she’s been hitting bombs. She’s been clutch for us. She’s been coming in really nicely.”
Egbert and Mathis, who were co-SCAC East MVPs, are among five seniors leaving the program after this weekend. They plan to go out with a bang, not a whimper.
“I don’t think we’re the team to beat, but definitely with Connell on your shirt, everyone’s gonna give you their best game,” coach Andy Sawyer said. “We’re gonna stay in it till they tell us to go home.”
RICHLAND DOMINATES ALL-MCC TEAMS: The Richland Bombers, who will open the Class 4A state tournament Friday in Spokane, landed six players on the Mid-Columbia Conference first team: first baseman Abby Perryman, catcher Paige Liikala, shortstop Stephanie Merwin, outfielder Alicia Maul, pitcher Brandi Andrews and April Utecht at designated hitter.
Utecht, who’s batting .726 with 16 home runs and 65 RBIs this season, was named the conference’s player of the year.
Even with its bevy of all-conference talent, Richland (21-3) will tread carefully at state.
“We have a very tough bracket with Battle Ground, Jackson, Olympia and nationally ranked Woodinville all in the lower bracket,” Richland coach Casey Emery said. “Our first game is (at noon) against Battle Ground, who has a very dominant hard-throwing pitcher in junior Parker Boyd. She throws 64 mph and is a Lehigh University commit. Behind Boyd’s pitching, Battle Ground has averaged giving up only 2.5 runs per game this season.”
Walla Walla (18-5), which will face Snohomish in its state opener at 10 a.m., had four first-team selections in second baseman Jordy Storm, third baseman Lauren Likes, outfielder Lauren Hoe and pitcher Brandi Schoessler. Hanford outfielder Lexi Alaniz and Southridge utility player Danielle Tolison also were named to the first team.
Three-time defending Class 3A champion Kamiakin didn’t get any first-team selections, but they had six on the second team. The Braves (16-6) will open the 3A tournament at noon Friday in Lacey against North Thurston, which will play in front of a home crowd.
LIBERTY CHRISTIAN HEADS TO STATE: Liberty Christian (18-4) will play its first state softball game in school history, facing Wishkah Valley at 1 p.m. Friday in the Class 1B tournament at Gateway Sports Complex in Yakima.
“I am preparing the girls to play a difficult team and will be expecting a good game,” Liberty Christian coach Jacob Bush said.
Senior pitcher Kiersten Peterson finished the regular season with a 15-3 record. Junior Bella Loera struck out once all season and leads the Patriots with a .561 batting average. Freshman Katie Steele is batting .515 with team highs in home runs (five) and RBIs (41).
OTHELLO RIDES MARTINEZES: Pitchers Dominique and Madison Martinez have been no-hitting or one-hitting opponents all season for Othello, which finished second at state last year.
Dominique, a sophomore, and Madison, a junior, have led the Huskies (19-3) back to the Class 2A state tournament at Carlon Park in Selah. The winner of the Othello/Sequim opener at noon Friday will advance to face Orting or Granite Falls in the quarterfinals.
Othello is in the bottom half of the bracket with fellow CWAC team Ellensburg. Host team Selah, which won the title in 2013, is in the top half.
Lake Washington, which beat Othello 4-0 for the 2014 title, is in the Class 3A tournament this year.