Though it won its first 22 games this spring, the road to success for the Sehome softball team in 2017 certainly was not paved in gold. In fact, it would be pretty hard to imagine a place much lower filled with more questions and self doubt from which to begin.
After flying through the 2016 Northwest Conference season with an impressive 17-3 record, the Mariners topped Granite Falls 12-11 in the opening round of the Class 2A Bi-District Tournament last spring. But just as quickly as Sehome started thinking about advancing to the state tournament – a place the program has been only six times previously – the door was slammed in its face with back-to-back losses to Sedro-Woolley and Lynden, ending the Mariners’ season.
“Losing definitely made us want redemption to have a successful season,” sophomore pitcher Savannah Smith said. “Those losses resonated with us.”
The effects of those two losses were felt throughout the offseason, and the Mariners carried the pain with them onto the practice field every time this spring. And when they took the field for a game, they wore the heartbreak from the losses like a chip on each shoulder – a reminder of what could happen if they lost focus.
It’s like insane. I’ve never been a part of such a good, well-rounded team in every aspect – pitching, batting, defense – we’re a really close team.
“I think we were thinking last year we would be something special, too, but it didn’t turn out the way we wanted in districts,” sophomore catcher Megan Hall said. “Since last year, I feel at every practice, we show each other we can do it.”
They’ve shown it in games, too, as Sehome rolled to a perfect 20-0 regular season, won a NWC title and, as the top seed into the bi-district tournament, won its first two postseason games to cement a trip to the Class 2A State Tournament, which begins Friday at Carlon Park in Selah. The Mariners will open with a noon first-round game against Ridgefield.
“I think what happened last year is one of our main driving forces,” Hall said. “Last year we thought we could make it to state, and this year we are.”
There’s no one single reason why Sehome was able to win its first 22 games this season and get to state.
Sure it would be easy to focus on the dominating pitching the Mariners get from Smith, who has helped Sehome post eight shutout victories so far this season and eight other victories where the Mariners held opponents to two or fewer runs. But Smith is the first to point to how well-rounded Sehome has been.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Smith said. “It’s like insane. I’ve never been a part of such a good, well-rounded team in every aspect – pitching, batting, defense – we’re a really close team.”
Sehome’s offense has averaged 10.3 runs per game this season and slugged 43 home runs, including 26 by the McDowell twins – Carissa and Tori.
“We have so many good hitters on this team,” Carissa McDowell said. “When somebody doesn’t get a hit, we all know we have plenty of good teammates coming after us who can pick us up.”
The Mariners’ defense has been equally as impressive, as coach Jim Emerson said the team has committed just 10 errors this season, and most of those occurred in the first three games when the team was still working out the kinks.
“It’s very reassuring,” Smith said. “I know I don’t need to strike out everybody. If they get a hit, it’s like ‘Big deal, I’ve got defense behind me.’”
Perhaps most important, though, is the way all the aspects of Sehome’s game have come together. Emerson said he’s been impressed with the ability of this year’s team to build chemistry.
“We all get along outside and inside, so it’s more like a family atmosphere than just coming to play for two hours a day,” Hall said.
We all get along outside and inside, so it’s more like a family atmosphere than just coming to play for two hours a day.
With strong pitching, hitting, defense and chemistry, the fact that Sehome won its first 22 games this season may not be as surprising as the 4-3 loss they suffered to Mountlake Terrace last Friday in the bi-district championship game.
The good news about the loss is it didn’t keep Sehome out of the state tournament this year – all it did is prevent them from claiming the bi-district’s top seed into the 16-team bracket. And it may serve to refocus the team after its offense struggled to get going against a strong pitcher – something the Mariners are sure to see in Selah this weekend.
But Emerson said there was no doubt that his players were hurt to see the season’s first blemish go on their record.
We need to keep our heads up and always play like it’s our last game.
“I think it shook us up a little bit,” Smith said. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we’re losing.’ But now it’s got us focused. We have a common goal that we all need to focus in on. We’re not the best in the state – we need to focus on ourselves to be the best in state.”
And that is ultimately the goal for the Mariners – to bring home Whatcom County’s first state softball title since Lynden Christian won back-to-back Class 1A crowns in 1993 and ’94. Lynden’s 1A title in 1990 is the only other softball title won by a Whatcom school.
If Sehome can win four straight Friday and Saturday, the Mariners will add their names to that exclusive list.
“We need to keep our heads up and always play like it’s our last game,” Carissa McDowell said.
Friday’s state softball tournament games
▪ Sehome vs. Ridgfield, noon at Carlon Park, Selah
▪ Nine Mile Falls Lakeside vs. Lynden Christian, noon at Columbia Playfield (Richland)