Four years ago, when coach Rick Ellis took over Bellingham’s softball team, it was hard to imagine the Red Raiders being relevant in the Northwest Conference, let alone being in the thick of a playoff race.
Bellingham had won just one game in the five years prior to Ellis taking over.
Yet 16 games into the season the Red Raiders are still above the .500 mark and competing for the Northwest Conference’s fifth spot iton the Class 2A District Tournament.
“It’s super exciting. When I first came in as a freshman, we only won two games,” senior Julia Latimer said. “It’s been a complete shift in the whole momentum of our team. I never even thought we’d be in the district race.”
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Things were so bad for so long — roughly a decade — for the Red Raiders that the team was a joke around school, Latimer said.
She said she used to hear people say how awful Bellingham softball was and ask why anyone would want to be on the team because they always lost.
Senior Jasmine Midgley almost didn’t come out her junior year because of the team’s struggles, she admitted.
Despite enduring two difficult seasons in terms of wins and losses — in 2012 and 2013, the Red Raiders combined for a 4-35 record — Latimer, Midgley and senior Justina Allen played for what they all agreed was “a love of the game.”
They got to see the start of a turnaround last season, going 5-13, and then everything started to come together this season.
“The three seniors that started for me my first year here four years ago, they’ve been there through this whole thing,” Ellis said in a phone interview. “The younger kids can see how hard they work and the things they’re doing out there. ... Hats off to the seniors for sticking with it.”
That senior class is led by Allen, who was batting .366 with 17 runs batted in through the first 14 games while committing only one error at third base. After taking a year off during her sophomore season to get her grades up, Allen has been a big part of Bellingham’s success the past two seasons.
“She’s just a presence. She works hard and has been a pretty consistent hitter,” Ellis said. “She’s worked hard to be successful. I don’t think I could ask much more from her. ... She really gets it, as far as what it takes to win on a consistent basis.”
While Midgley and Latimer’s seasons haven’t been especially noteworthy, their advice and leadership have been instrumental for Bellingham.
After all, they were there when the Red Raiders were struggling and can pass along advice about how to persevere through difficult times, something they do frequently.
“It’s hard because they (the freshmen and sophomores) haven’t been there, but I think it’ll be great because they don’t need to worry about what the past is,” Allen said. “They can just keep building on to the legacy.”
And the young group is more than capable of doing so. Sophomores Eliza Rossman and Lindsey Richard lead the team in batting average and RBI while also contributing in the circle.
Rossman has earned high praise around the league, as she maintained a 3.66 ERA through the first 15 games, while going 7-5.
They are aided by one of the best freshmen classes in the Northwest Conference, with Carrie Latimer and Cammy Serena both batting over .300.
With most of its best players returning, it appears the turnaround for Bellingham is here to stay.
“They were all part of that select program. It’s not a fluke they were able to come in and contribute,” Ellis said. “I think being in the hunt, we’ll take it as is and see how it goes, but the future is bright. These young kids are only going to get better.”
The select program Ellis speaks of is the Bellingham Bash, a recent addition to the Whatcom County softball community and something many players from the city schools are taking advantage of.
Without question, it’s been one of the biggest keys to Bellingham’s recent success.
“It makes the high school season much more exciting, because then you know that you can just start getting into good practices earlier into the season,” Midgley said.
As the select program continues to grow and Bellingham gets more and more wins with a young core, the Red Raiders are showing they’re here to stay.
And gone are the days of Red Raiders being ignored around school.
“It’s become a lot more positive and more aware,” Midgley said. “It’s thrilling, because now we’re finally getting noticed in a positive way.”
The rest of the league should take notice too, because Bellingham is closer to the top than the cellar and the Red Raiders are only getting better.