High school softball preview: Driven To Succeed

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

They had such a fun, wild ride to their championship games a year ago.

They were living on an adrenaline rush to the end of May. And then ... and then ... oh, what a downer.

Camas finished second in the Class 4A state softball tournament in 2013.

Prairie finished second in the Class 3A state softball tournament in 2013.

Woodland finished second in the Class 1A state softball tournament in 2013.

Southwest Washington softball was oh-so close. Even R.A. Long of Longview made it to the finals last year, only to lose in the 2A title game.

That's three teams from the three Greater St. Helens Leagues and one from the Trico League. Which means there are four teams who have been waiting a long time to try to make amends.

Camas lost 2-1 to Arlington only after Arlington robbed a Camas home run, the fielder crashing through the temporary fence while making the catch. Yes, the Papermakers were inches away from a state championship.

"After the game, we all had our moments of sadness," Camas' all-league infielder Lena Richards said.

It was not a pity party, though.

Instead, it was a chance to look to 2014.

"What am I going to do next year to not allow this to happen?" Richards said. "What can I do to better myself for the team?"

Camas is led by Richards and Hubbard, two Division-I signees. Richards is going to the University of Akron, while Hubbard, one of the best pitchers in the state, is going to North Carolina State.

"We know what it feels like to be in the championship game," Hubbard said. "It gives us the fire to push ourselves."

It is rare for a high school team in any sport to have one centralized goal. Sure, there is a league to play, followed by a district tournament, and then the opportunity to make it to state. But for Camas, with five seniors, with so much young talent, too, and with all that the team did last year, is this squad really in a state-championship-or-bust mode?

"Yes," Hubbard said, matter-of-factly.

Richards agreed, but she wanted to make it clear that the Papermakers are not overconfident. They just know what they are capable of doing this season.

"That's the mentality, but I wouldn't say we say that," Richards said of state-or-bust. "If we play our best, that will come with it. We strive to be our best. If we play our best, we know what will happen."

Camas coach Ken Nidick said the players have set the tone this year, not the coaching staff.

"They know the big picture because they had a taste for it last year," Nidick said. "They told me, 'We're playing in it, and we're winning it.' "

Prairie has a new coach this year, but she, too, knows the sting of losing in the big one. Ari Van Horn was an assistant coach with Camas last year.

"I come into a program that has the same hunger," Van Horn said. "We all want it so bad. They're doing everything they can to get there this year."

Kamiakin beat Prairie 12-7 in the 3A title game. The Falcons scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a 7-5 lead before Kamiakin scored seven in the top of the seventh. Emotions ran high in the two-day tournament, with Prairie rallying to win their first three games to advance to the title game.

"That was the most exciting (two) days of softball that I've had in my high school experience," said Holly Kersanti, now a senior. "We came together as a family. We played really strong. I was proud of how far our season went and how well our team did."

Still ...

"It hurt so bad."

The Falcons lost a couple of big bats to graduation, but that has not changed expectations.

"We filled our team up with more great hitters," Kersanti said.

"We've come back ... to go back to state."

The Woodland Beavers also have some big cleats to fill in 2014. They gain experience every preseason with a demanding schedule. Coach Damon Yeo insists on testing his Class 1A team against the likes of Prairie, Mountain View and 4A Heritage. Last week, the Beavers went 2-1 against those larger programs.

Last year, the Beavers outscored their opponents at state 29-1 before losing to Connell 4-0 in the finals.

"We got to take in that loss and say goodbye to our seniors. Now we know what we have to do," said Woodland's Maddie Sorensen. "We have the motivation in our hearts. We have to know we will get there. If we don't think we're going to get there, we've already shot ourselves in the foot."

The fear of losing is a big motivator.

For softball in Southwest Washington in 2014, so is the anticipation of what could become a championship reality.

Players to watch

Michelle Brincefield, Skyview; Teaghan Cowles, Columbia River; Emily Dobbin, Skyview; Harli Hubbard, Camas; Krystina Fischer, Battle Ground; Emily Muffett, La Center; Nicole O’Haver, Prairie; Lena Richards, Camas; Maddie Sorensen, Woodland; Morgan Spieth, Union; Dalaney Tuholski, Heritage.

Five things to watch

Hey, don’t forget about us: Way back in 2011, the Skyview Storm made it to the Class 4A state semifinals with a few freshmen with starring roles. Now, Michelle Brincefield and Emily Dobbin are seniors. Brincefield returns to the pitching circle and Dobbin — signed with Kent State — is one of those athletes who can play anywhere. Camas has to be favored in the 4A GSHL, but don’t forget about the Storm, who also made it to state last year.

New coach, but familiar name: Several area coaches noted that Battle Ground, with former Tiger Arielle Wiser now the coach, could be a team to watch in the 4A GSHL. Wiser played at Battle Ground before starring at Portland State University.

New hope: Fort Vancouver reports a sophomore, Rachelle Bonneville, and a freshman, Sydney Brugman, are among the leaders on its team. It is the hope of any team that has been struggling in recent years to get an influx of young talent to turn around a program.

Small-school favorites: R.A. Long finished second in the Class 2A state tournament and returns nine players from that team. From the Trico League, Woodland finished second in 1A state title. La Center and Kalama, though, look to compete for the top spot in the league with the Beavers.

Destinations: For you fans expecting your teams to make it to state, you can book your hotels here: Class 4A in Spokane; Class 3A in Lacey; Class 2A in Selah; Class 1A in Richland. Good luck!