State-bound for softball

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Monte's Makenzi Howard slides past the tag of Elma catcher Peyton Elliott to touch home plate. Montesano defeated its East County rival, 11-4, to win the District IV 1A championship on Saturday.

It came down to a battle of East County rivals for the District IV 1A softball championship on Saturday, as Elma and Montesano faced off for the third time this season. And for the third straight time, the result was the same. The Bulldogs took home the trophy for the first time since 2010 with a 11-4 victory over the Eagles.

“We haven’t won the district title since 2010, so it is great to bring it back,” Monte coach Pat Pace said. “We haven’t won the district title and the league title since 2009, so we have a special group of girls here.”

Monte jumped out to an early lead with three runs in the first inning, two coming on a double from freshman Allyssa Gustafson. Elma grabbed two runs back in the third to cut the lead to one, but that was as close as the Eagles would come to the lead. Elma couldn’t capitalize with runners in scoring position in the fifth and sixth innings as the Eagles stranded five runners.

Leading 6-4, Monte broke the game open in the top of the seventh with back-to-back home runs from a pair of freshman. After a single by Rayna Ashlock, Gustafson drove in her fourth and fifth runs of the game with a two-run homer, which freshman Cheyann Bartlett followed up with a home run of her own.

“We’ve got three or four girls that aren’t in the lineup that can hit the ball,” Pace said. “Our offense, right now, has just bumped it up a level from where we were at in the regular season. If we are going to peak, this is a great time to peak because it is taking us right into the state tournament, and I hope all of the freshman bring their bats just like that. Hitting is contagious and as our upperclassmen lead the way, everybody is getting in on the show.”

For Elma, baserunning mistakes and fielding errors cost the Eagles throughout the game.

“So many points in the game could have changed things,” Elma coach Janene Todd said. “All of these little things are the things that we need to be able to let go and come out differently, use them to make you stronger. We need to let things go. We need to shake things off. When we make an error we haven’t been able to come back from that, so that is our goal. We just didn’t show up like they did. They are a good team. We wanted some momentum to go into state, but we are going to be able to pick ourselves up and do what we need to do.”

Both teams had secured a spot in the 1A state tournament on May 21. Elma beat La Center, 3-2, and topped Hoquiam, 8-2. Monte defeated Kalama, 8-4, and beat Woodland, 4-3. Montesano will begin the state tournament at 10 a.m. May 30 at the Columbia Playfield in Richaland against Nooksack Valley, and Elma will face off with Zillah at noon. The two East County teams are on opposite sides of the bracket, so if both teams continue to win it would set up a rematch in the state championship game.

The last time Monte won the Evergreen 1A league title and the District IV championship was in 2009, the same year as the last Bulldog state championship.

“At the beginning of the season, the girls set the goal that we have a shot of being league champs, district champs and shooting for the state title,” Pace said. “So far, they are two for three and we will see what happens next weekend.”