Commentary: Curious Season Ends Perfectly for Bearcats
By Aaron VanTuyl
The Bearcats weren’t a favorite this year.
No, really, hear me out.
W.F. West went to the State 2A softball tournament with an 18-3 record. That’s fine, probably, for most teams.
But for Chehalis? That almost feels like an off year.
This is a team with six straight district titles. The senior class went 48-0 in Evergreen 2A Conference games. Losing, at all, isn’t a thing that happens on any type of a regular basis.
The favorites in Selah, then, were the teams with fancier records — Ellensburg and Port Angeles each showed up with one loss, for starters, and White River looked good after a first-round win over one-loss Cedarcrest.
The Bearcats? They’re always in the conversation, but probably weren’t the first team on anyone’s list this time around. The Tacoma News Tribune’s state rankings had W.F. West sixth as late as May 15; Sehome (20-0 at the time) was No. 1, Cedarcrest (20-0) was No. 2, and Ellensburg was No. 3. Port Angeles was fifth.
“I feel like we were definitely overlooked,” senior Lexie Strasser said. “I think they thought that because we graduated a lot of people last year, we were going to have a huge loss.
“But there was more (players) coming in, and we all really have come together,” she added on Saturday, after pitching the Bearcats to a 5-1 championship-game win over Port Angeles. “Everybody’s a stud. What can I say?”
A partial factor could have been the weather. The Bearcats didn’t play a home game until May 10, more than two months after their season-opening jamboree at the RAC in Lacey; they rarely practiced on grass (coach Mike Keen joked that they were outside three times during the regular season), at one point played a ‘home’ game in Rochester, and didn’t get to play on their own varsity field until their Evergreen 2A Conference finale against Centralia.
It changed the conversation around the team from “Are they going to win it all again?” to “Are they ever going to play a home game?”
And then there were the losses.
“I don’t like losing, so I was a little miffed after we did lose in those three,” Strasser added. “But it doesn’t stop any of us.”
A deluge of losses, really. Three of them! After a 2016 season in which the Bearcats finished third with just one L all year!
“It was kind of weird to lose three games during the season,” first baseman Ashlee Vadala said. “Which sounds really weird, but it kind of was.”
The losses, though, were fairly excusable. The last was against Montesano, the Monday before the state tournament. The Bulldogs won that game 5-0, then outscored four opponents 44-7 to win their ninth state championship in 20 years. (Montesano was also the only team to beat 2B champion Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, in a late-season nonleague game.)
Another was to Yelm, in the first game of the season; the Tornados lost to Redmond, 9-5, in the State 3A championship on Saturday. And the other came against Camas, by a 3-1 margin, with a few key players missing; the Papermakers took fourth in the State 4A tournament.
“They were all to really good teams,” said Keen. “And the kids are great. They learn from what they did wrong, and when they got beat.”
“And we’d rather lose them then, than lose them, like, today.”
Once the weather issues were a non-factor (it was in the high 80s on Friday and Saturday in Selah) and they hit the “everyone’s record is 0-0” stage of the season, they were in championship shape. Through three district games and four state games, there were never in serious danger; the bats were too powerful, and Strasser was consistently untouchable in the circle. A curious season came to a close in what’s now, for W.F. West, the typical fashion.
“This one was a tribute to the kids,” Keen said, of his third championship in the last six years. “For the terrible weather and field conditions, and how they just worked together so well.”