No Surprise: Defending State Champ Bearcats the Pick in EvCo
By The Chronicle
At this point it’s more of a tradition than prediction.
W.F. West, once again, is the favorite in the Evergreen 2A Conference, and for good reason: The Bearcats have won two of the last three State 2A titles, been to state 14 straight years, won six straight District 4 championships, and haven’t lost a league game since 2013.
For reference, that means this year’s senior class was in seventh grade the last time the Bearcats came up on the short end of an EvCo softball game.
“I think that’s all these kids know, and that’s been interesting, as a coach, stepping into that,” first-year Bearcat head coach Caty Lieseke said. “They don’t know what it’s like to lose league (games), and they don’t know what it’s like to lose in districts. I love that they’re ambitious, and that’s what they want out of this season.”
And, despite losing a handful of starters from last year’s championship team to graduation, Lieseke — the Bearcats’ JV coach last year, who takes over the head role from Mike Keen — isn’t exactly starting from scratch. EvCo co-Offensive MVPs Kindra Davis and Olivia Dean are back to lead the batting order; Davis, a third-baseman headed for Boise State, hit .507 with 30 RBIs and seven homers last year, while Dean, a shortstop, hit .438 with 16 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.
Ashlee Vadala, a senior pitcher and first baseman, hit .463 with 31 RBIs last year and made the All-League first team, and sophomore catcher Paetynn Lopez was an All-League pick with a .432 average and 28 RBIs.
“These girls have been playing together since they were young. They work like they play together year round, even though they don’t,” Lieseke said. “It’s really fun to step into the role as head coach, just because these kids know what they’re doing.”
Vadala, a lefthander, posted a 4-1 record last year, but didn’t see as much time in the circle as she did as a sophomore thanks to a dominating run from Lexie Strasser — who’s now a starting pitcher at Central Washington University.
Sophomores Annika Waring and Jasmine Gallea round out the varsity pitching staff.
“Annika was one that was ready to go at any point last year. She’s a workhorse. She’ll do anything you ask, and she’ll do it well,” Lieseke said. “Jasmine threw a lot on JV last year as well. She takes her job very seriously in the circle.”
Sophomore Ashlyn Whalen, meanwhile, moves into the starting role at second base and batted cleanup in the Bearcats’ season-opener. Ava Fugate, Noelle Roberts, Paytton Crawford, Taylor Barker and Kenna Brinson are all underclassmen competing for starting spots in the outfield early in the season.
Rochester, with new coach Dave Montgomery, appears to be on the upswing after two season-opening shutouts. Their strength, naturally, is in the circle; junior Delaney Glazer and senior Hunter Hahn were both All-League picks last year, and freshman Liz Phelps could step in in a pinch, Montgomery said.
“I feel like I’ve got two legit pitchers in Delaney and Hunter, and that’s super exciting,” Montgomery said. “Pitching is going to be a strong suit, and I love having Bella Phelps behind the plate.”
Phelps, a veteran catcher, led the Warriors with nine homers and a .479 average last year to earn an All-League nod. She’ll be in the heart of the order, with Hahn (.400 average) batting leadoff and playing shortstop when she’s not pitching and Glazer (.370) batting second.
Sophomore infielder Lexie Trombley and junior outfielder Emily Haury have also looked promising at the plate, Montgomery added.
Montgomery, a Rochester teacher and an assistant coach at Capital last year, hopes to build a program from the ground up.
“We’re trying to build that unity from JV to varsity, and trying to reach out to other programs, too,” he said. “We’re really trying to build community teams, where it’s dad-coach or other people coming in, and trying to get them as little kids, and then feed into our program. … It’s one of the things I’m super excited about.”
Centralia is hoping a wealth of returning starters can translate into more wins this season.
All-League first-teamer McKenna Smith returns to the heart of the batting order after hitting .370 last season and playing shortstop.
“She’s going to be a big part of the lineup. Hopefully we can set the table and Mak can clean it up for us,” Tiger coach Mike McDonald said. “She did a great job last year doing it, and she’s a leader on the field, and hopefully a leader on the plate.”
Sophomore Sophie Duffy looks like the Tigers’ starting pitcher early on, with senior Tayler Bailey playing first base and ready for relief work.
“We’re looking for good stuff from Sophie this year,” McDonald said, “And Tayler’s ready to go, too.”
Freshmen Courtney Spriggs joins the starting lineup in the outfield, where she’ll join returning starters Courtney Leifer Carlson and Tyler Jorgenson, a senior who last played as a sophomore. Junior Ashley Dozler and sophomore Alayna Miller will also see work in the outfield.
Kylie Sharp, a sophomore, is also back in the starting lineup and moves to shortstop, while Hannah Porter returns at catcher.
“The returning sophomores have improved a lot, and they’re spraying the ball around pretty well,” McDonald said. “Our returning kids, the seniors and juniors, have improved this year. … We’re hoping we can put some runs on the board.”
Tumwater went 3-2 last year at the state tournament, finishing a game shy of a trophy, with a young team that featured just three seniors. The Thunderbirds welcome new head coach Ashley Andrews and boast sophomore pitchers Savannah Owen and Jaidyn Carpenter, along with All-League first-teamers Sawyer Vessey, Myiah Seaton and Katie Cunningham.
Andrews, a 2008 Tumwater graduate, was a four-year starter at the University of Tennessee, then an assistant coach at the University of Washington and Tennessee’s Director of Softball Operations last year.
“She’s going to put a good program together, no matter who she’s got out there,” Lieseke, who played with Andrews during her own prep days, said.
Aberdeen returns slugging All-League catcher Reagan Glanz, but went just 3-13 last season.
Black Hills will be led by senior center fielder Chantal Won, an All-League first-team pick last year when the Wolves went 6-10. All-League second-team shortstop Aly Gill also returns.
Coach: Dave Montgomery
Returning Starters: Emily Haury (Jr., OF), Lexie Trombley (So., 1B), Hunter Hahn (Sr., SS), Delaney Glazer (Jr., P/IF), Kiah Horger (Jr., OF), Bella Phelps (Sr., C)
W.F. West Bearcats
Coach: Caty Lieseke
2017: 22-3 (state champions)
Returning: Olivia Dean (Sr., SS); Lopez (So., C), Kindra Davis (Sr., 3B), Ashlee Vadala (P/1B)
Coach: Mike McDonald (fourth)
Returning Starters: Mckenna Smith (Sr., 3B), Courtney Leifer Carlson (Sr., CF), Hannah Porter (Jr., C), Tayler Bailey (Sr., P/1B), Tyler Jorgenson (Sr., 2B/OF), Sophie Duffy (So., P/IF/OF), Kylie Sharp (So., SS)
1. W.F. West
5. Black Hills