LONGVIEW — Ridgefield softball’s postseason started Friday with an emotional tournament-wide moment of silence for coach Dusty Anchors, who died Wednesday at 68 from complications from heart disease.
The Spudders day ended in an equally emotional moment of celebration.
Through the entire four hours, coach Dusty was present. He was there when the Spudders took the field in a 2A district opening 4-0 win over Centralia, and there as the Spudders “smiled, giggled, laughed and had fun.”
“He always told us that,” junior Mia Tomillo said.
And he was there when Tomillo cranked the go-ahead two-run home run in the sixth inning of a 6-5 semifinal win over W.F. West.
As Tomillo connected with the pitch, senior Kaia Oliver stood on the dugout bench, a red ribbon dotted with small white anchors twined in her hair. When that little yellow ball sailed over the center-field fence, Oliver broke into tears.
“The first thing I did was think of Dusty,” she said. “I said, ‘Dusty, you gave us everything we need to know. You have hope and faith in us. … I knew he was there. He was in the front row watching us play. It hit me hard.”
The last couple days have been expectedly difficult for the Spudders. Anchors was in his third year with the program. From the field condition to the results, Anchors had his hand in the softball team’s revival.
“He put everything he had into the program and it really shows,” Tomillo said. “He made all the difference, and still does.”
The evening after Anchors’ death, the Spudders gathered around the batting cages. As a team, a family, they began to process the event they had prepared for when Anchors went into hospice care the prior Thursday.
“The first day was pretty tough,” Oliver said. “But it gave us motiivation as a team to come together. We knew what his intentions were for the season and what he wanted us as a team to do.”
The team spent more time together the past few days than they had all season, Tomillo said, and they relied on each other Friday when the going got tough. Down 5-2 in the sixth inning to a very good Bearcat squad, the Spudders needed a spark. A leadoff double by Emma Jenkins started a four-run frame. Tomillo’s home run capped it.
And just like that, the Spudders were knocking on the door of a state berth, “on the verge of No. 3,” as Anchors penned eight days prior.
Oliver wiped the tears from her eyes — “I knew Dusty wouldn’t want me going out there in tears,” she said after — and struck out two in a clean frame to advance to Saturday’s 2A district title game against Woodland.
Interim coach Rob Oliver had little to say afterward. But, choking back tears, offered some words of solace to a teary-eyed group.
“Dusty would be proud. He is proud.”
Woodland improves to 21-0 — Olivia Grey struck out 29 batters in 6-0 and 4-0 victories over Aberdeen and Tumwater, respectively, to lead the defending 2A champions to another state berth. They will face Ridgefield in a 1 p.m. title game at Seventh Avenue Park.
Kaily Christensen clubbed a trio of home runs on the day, going 5 for 8 with six RBI. Payten Foster also homered against Aberdeen.
“It still feels unreal again,” Christensen said of the state berth. “It’s hard to believe we’ll be back there again. It’s just so exciting to do this with my team and my coaches.”
Hockinson eliminated — The Hawks showed plenty of fight in a pair of losses Friday. They scored three runs in the seventh inning of a 7-4 opening-round loss to Tumwater, and battled back to take Aberdeen to nine innings before losing 11-10. Jenna Remenar was 8 for 10 on the day with seven RBI. She had three doubles and a triple.
The Hawks trailed 5-1 against Aberdeen before tying the game in the fifth. They fell behind 6-4 before rallying back to tie in the seventh. A three-run ninth inning had them primed for a thrilling win, until Aberdeen countered with four to end the Hawks’ season at 14-7.