White River fastpitch coach Joe Sprouse walked through the rain with head held high as he departed the Sprinker Recreation Center Saturday.
Not because his talented group had just been blanked 12-0 by a fearsome Sequim High unit, but because the game they had just dropped to the Wolves was the West Central District III championship tilt and all the loss did was affect the seeding for the state softball tournament at Selah’s Carlon Park this weekend. It’s a 16-team 2A state fastpitch festival that White River will be a part of for the first time in more than 20 years.
By virtue of its success at regionals, the Hornet team, now 18-6 overall, will advance to this weekend’s proceedings as the No. 2 seed and their initial test will come against Ellensburg at noon Friday.
“Getting to the state tournament and earning a trophy to put under the fastpitch banner in White River’s gymnasium has been one of our goals from day one this season,” Sprouse said. “Now we are going to head over to eastern Washington and have some fun.”
Sprouse maintained that at this level it is anyone’s guess which of the assembled squads will emerge as the state’s next 2A fastpitch queen.
To be successful, Sprouse said, his crew must play solid defense behind pitcher Sara Steinmetz.
“She might not be an overpowering presence on the mound, but her pitches tend to produce a lot of weak grounders and pop ups,” he said. If his Hornets play solid ball in the field the outlook is good, “because we can swing the bats with any team,” he said.
Sprouse’s squad certainly demonstrated that skill set at Sprinker as in its second season opener it brought Interlake’s Saints down to earth Friday 5-2, then blew North Mason off the diamond Saturday 13-3.
The common denominator in both these victories was the play of South Puget Sound League 2A MVP Brooke Paulson, at the plate and in the field.
“Brooke really played like an MVP this past weekend,” Sprouse said. “She is part of the solid senior core on this team, that has been the motor powering this machine all year long.”
Against Interlake, White River got out to a rather sluggish start, but Paulson tromped on the accelerator, breaking the postseason affair wide open when she smashed a long shot over the outstretched leather of the Saints’ backpedaling center fielder in the fifth inning.
“I think that was just about the fastest I’ve ever run in my life,” Paulson said with a grin, recalling her first inside-the-park-home-run.
“When I saw that coach Sprouse wasn’t putting up the stop sign at third I figured that Interlake’s cut-off person must have bobbled the exchange from their center fielder, so I just kept running.”
After easily disposing of Interlake, White River moved on to the quarter-final round the next day and pulverized a North Mason squad that had lit up Sumner and upset 2011 SPSL 2A title winner Franklin Pierce in its previous two tournament engagements.
White River left little doubt who the better team was and again Paulson was a motivating factor as she crushed a triple that ignited the Hornets in the early stages of the lopsided affair and led to an eventual 13-3 drubbing.
After bludgeoning the Bulldogs it was time to advance to the district championship showdown with Sequim, as the skies drew increasingly darker with the threat of rain.
“I don’t know what else to say about Sequim,” Sprouse said, noting his team had already lost twice to the Wolves this season. “All you can do against them is face them and do your best. Maybe we’ll get another crack at ‘em at state and the odds will catch up to them.”