A year after reaching the state semifinals, and just weeks after the girls’ basketball team brought home gold, the Clatskanie softball team is feeling good.
The Tigers are 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in OSAA’s 3A classification. They’ve outscored opponents 91-18, including topping state quarterfinalist Amity 17-0 on Tuesday.
“We’re definitely still young, so it’s hard,” sophomore Shelby Blodgett said. “But I think being ranked No. 1 gives us the motivation and push to keep working and be the best we can be.”
After all, the Tigers have been in this spot before, albeit on the hardwood and not on the diamond. There’s a familiarity that comes with it, and that is equally true of the softball team’s semifinal run last season.
In any case, it’s made this year’s start feel much different.
“Last year there was a fair number of kids learning how I am and what it takes to compete at this level on a daily basis,” second-year coach Kevin Sprague said. “For the most part, they’re all back, and they know what it takes. There’s a comfort that comes with knowing. Nothing is a surprise.”
Clatskanie returns all but Olivia Warren, now playing at University of Providence, from last year’s squad. It’s forced some of the primarily-sophomore squad into new roles. So far, so good.
“We have a lot of leadership,” sophomore Alexis Smith said. “That definitely helps with some of the newcomers.”
Of course, Clatskanie’s biggest obstacle on their way back to the title game comes from just 12 miles west. The Rainier Columbians, who have been to six straight state title games, are the de facto favorites atop the new Coastal Range League.
“We know they’re a softball team; they’ve been to countless state championships,” Blodgett said. “We know they want to win just as much as anybody else does. They’re smart, so we just have to play our best game.”
The teams will meet three times this year, the first a doubleheader at Rainier on April 12. That leaves little time for the Tigers to be at their best, particularly after a long basketball season.
“In an interesting sort of way, that forces you to cut out all the extraneous stuff and get right down to the basics,” Sprague said. “It allowed us to settle in and just take whatever was going to come because of it. You simplify things, and sometimes it just frees them up to play.”
The defense and pitching have been strong suits, Smith said. The batting needs some work, though.
“We’ve always been a defensive team; that’s the thing we take pride in,” Blodgett said. “One of our top goals this year is just to get on the bats.”
Sprague added: “It’s just tightening things up and understanding how we can move runners with different people in our batting order. … Our top five or six is going to do what they’re going to do. But how do we get the 6-7-8-9 to lengthen the lineup and be productive all the way through because you have to be. The Taleah Kings of the world are going to make you work.”