The road to a state 1A softball championship may lead through Southwest Washington again this year.
To the surprise of very few, Montesano, La Center and Hoquiam — in that order – swept the top places at state last May.
Bolstered by talented and experienced pitching, Monte, Hoquiam and Elma (which narrowly missed a state berth last season) possess legitimate title hopes this season.
Montesano coach Pat Pace, in fact, foresees a five-way battle for three state berth this year, with much-improved Forks and Trico League favorite Castle Rock joining the list of contenders.
Aberdeen, meanwhile, will be relying on a mixture of youth and experience to launch its bid for a state 2A appearance.
The Bobcats opened their season with a victory over North Mason on Friday. Weather permitting, the three 1A teams open play this week.
The Bulldogs graduated nine players from a club that earned the school’s ninth state title in 20 years. But the list of returnees include their ace pitcher and the team’s top three in season batting average from a year ago.
Samantha Stanfield gives Monte a formidable presence in the pitching circle. The senior right-hander, who allowed only eight hits and struck out 38 in four state appearances, has signed with Central Washington University.
Stanfield, senior catcher Peyton Poler and junior infielder Lindsay Pace provide the nucleus of Monte’s attack. Pace, who spent much of last year as a designated player (softball’s version of baseball’s designated hitter), shifts to third base this season.
Other likely starters include junior Katie Granstrom at shortstop and juniors Lexi Lovell and Matti Ekerson and sophomore Abbi Parkin in the outfield. Parkin is expected to give the Dogs a slap-hitting presence at the top of the batting order.
Sophomores Payton Kersker and Emma Jensen will split time at second base and seniors Kaydee Mittleider and Chelsi Howard will do the same at first.
Sophomore Kate Klinger will back up Poler behind the place and also see time at the DP position. Sophomore Janessa Otterstetter and freshman Jessica Stanfield are also ticked for varsity duty.
“Offensively, I think we’re going to be pretty good,” Coach Pace said. “I believe we have enough power to fill the spots from the seniors who graduated to be pretty strong one-to-nine (in the batting order) again.”
Defense, according to Coach Pace, is a bit more problematic.
“Sam can shut teams down, but she still needs somebody behind her,” he said. “We’re pretty young and inexperienced at the high school level.”
The Bulldogs will play their traditionally rugged non-league schedule, with scheduled matchups against three reigning state champions (Class 3A Redmond, 2A Chehalis and 2B Pe Ell-Willapa Valley).
Only an extra-inning loss to Hoquiam at district prevented the Eagles from earning a state berth last year.
They return a decent nucleus from that team, including all-league shortstop Kali Rambo and ace pitcher Quin Mikel (both sophomores). Depth could be a concern, as Elma will suit up only 14 players.
“What it will take to get to state is a full commitment from the girls, to always have a positive attitude and a lot of heart,” Elma coach Roger Elliott said. “Our league is the toughest in the state, so there’s no easy games.”
Mikel, who is also ticketed for outfield duty, will share pitching responsibilities with junior Destry Dineen and freshman Jalyn Whipple.
Other returning starters include junior outfielder Molly Johnston, junior first baseman-second baseman Chloe Velasco and outfielder Kassedy Olson.
They’ll be supported by junior outfielder Morgan Thompson, infielder Emily Newberry, sophomore catcher-infielder Olivia Cain, junior first baseman Kaylan Bossard, sophomore outfielder Zoe Wright and senior infielder Ashley Hornsby.
Elliott sees team speed as one of his club’s strengths. He projects Montesano as the league favorite, with the Eagles battling Hoquiam and Forks for second.