RICHLAND — The result of the game was tough for the La Center Wildcats to accept.
But they did accept a second-place trophy.
And they appreciated it, too, because they knew how much they had to overcome just to get to the title game, to try to defend their state championship from a year ago.
Montesano hit up and down the lineup Saturday afternoon to beat La Center 8-2 in the championship game of the Class 1A state softball tournament at Columbia Playfield. The Bulldogs avenged last year’s loss in this game.
The Wildcats left the field knowing they gave everything just to get to this spot. The team graduated six seniors from the title team, plus two other potential returning starters could not play this season.
“Coming into this tournament, we felt like we had nothing to lose. We were ready to go for it,” senior catcher Megan Muffett said. “I’m so proud of our team for staying pumped and wanting it.”
“The young people stepped up,” added pitcher Abby England. “I had confidence in the people behind me.’
So there were the Wildcats, in a familiar position, chasing a state title.
“Halfway through the season, we were still trying to figure out who’s playing where,” La Center coach Randy Martinez said.
The team suffered through a series of losses, too.
“I don’t think we ever gave up hope,” Muffett said. “We knew we were struggling, but it drove us more.”
The Wildcats peaked at the right time.
“They played exceptional today and yesterday,” Martinez said.
La Center won two games Friday, then dispatched Colville 8-1 in the semifinals earlier Saturday. Caitlyn Thompson hit a grand slam, and England struck out 11 and hit a solo home run.
The Bulldogs, though, were ready for the championship game.
“We know what it’s like to be on the other end of it, when there’s no doubt when you step on the field,” Muffett said.
“That’s how they came out, with no doubt,” she said of the Bulldogs. “That’s hard to compete against.”
Montesano had 14 hits, including four from Peyton Poler, who also drove in three runs.
“We wanted it so bad,” Poler said. “Losing to them last year was so difficult. We were all heartbroken. To come back this year was so fun, so exciting. We earned it. We got it back from them.”
Poler drove in the first run of the game in the first inning and Allyssa Gustafson added a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead.
La Center took advantage of two errors in the top of the second to tie the game.
It was all Montesano from there.
Poler had a two-run single and Gustafson had a two-run double in a five-run second inning for a 7-2 lead.
Montesano made five errors in the game, but the Wildcats did not get any timely hits to take advantage.
No earned runs scored against Montesano pitcher Sam Stanfield in her four-hitter.
The post-game gatherings flip-flopped from a year ago. The Bulldogs celebrated, while the Wildcats took a few minutes together for one last team meeting.
That’s when it hit them. A Wildcat reminded the rest of the group that second place is still pretty good.
In fact, this was the third consecutive trip to the state tournament. La Center did not place in 2015, won it all in 2016, and is the runner-up this season.
“Not too bad,” England said with a smile.
MONTESANO 8, LA CENTER 2
La Center 020 000 0—2 4 1
Montesano 251 000 x—8 14 5
Pitcher — Abby England 6 IP, loss, 2 Ks. Highlights — Macy Randolf 1-3; Megan Muffett 1-3; Caitlyn Thompson 1-2; England 1-2, 2B.
Pitcher — Sam Stanfield 7 IP, win, 1 K, 0 ER. Highlights — Peyton Poler 4-4, 3 RBI; Allyssa Gustafson 1-2, 2B, 3 RBI; Annie Cristelli 2-4; Josie Toyra 2-3, 2B; Stanfield 2-3; Cheyann Bartlett 1-3, 2 RBI; Hannah Quinn 1-3; Morgan Kersker 1-3, 2B.