As the Panthers learned a year ago, being the favorite doesn't necessarily guarantee a trip to state. Snohomish, last year's Wesco 4A North champion, finished the 2013 regular season with a 12-2 league record and an 18-2 record overall, but failed to get out of the district tournament and lost to Kingco's No. 3 seed Newport in a winner-to-state game.
Arlington, a team the Panthers finished one game better than in the regular season, went on to win both the district and the state tournament.
This season, Lake Stevens handed the Panthers their only loss, winning 8-7 on May 9. Any team that stands a chance of beating Snohomish in this year's district tournament would be well-served following the model of the Vikings.
Though Lake Stevens won just one of two games against Snohomish, the Vikings proved both times that they are more than capable of beating the Panthers. After being tied late in the game, Snohomish escaped with a 5-3 win in the first meeting of the year between the two teams.
Led by Megan Berry and Rayne Sylvester, the Vikings have two starting pitchers that can go toe-to-toe with Snohomish's dangerous tandem of Bailey Seek and Alyssa Simons. Seek and Simons aren't going to allow many runs, so to have a chance to beat the Panthers the opponent has to have pitching that can do the same.
Snohomish's Trysten Melhart is the most dangerous offensive player on the field. She broke the school's batting average record in each of her first three seasons in high school and her speed running the bases is unparalleled. The Vikings' Cassidy Fifield may not have the same stats as Melhart, but she's a similar type of player and gives her team a chance to score every inning she comes to the plate.
A team with the same type of weapons as the Vikings might have a chance to pull off an upset of the Panthers in districts, but the team with the best chance is probably the Vikings themselves.
Is Meadowdale better than it was last season?
After losing two of its first four games — all to Wesco 4A opponents — Meadowdale enters the 3A District 1 tournament riding a 14-game winning streak. In that run, the Mavericks' offense has scored 10 or more runs in 10 of Meadowdale's 18 games while holding opponents to two runs or less 11 times.
Meadowdale's strong pitching and explosive offense looks to help the Mavericks improve on last season's finish, when Meadowdale placed third in the 3A state tournament.
“I think they've jelled more,” said Meadowdale head coach Dennis Hopkins. “… The defense has always been good behind them. I think they're just used to (winning). They don't know any better.”
Alyssa Reuble, now at Seattle University, was the only senior to graduate from last year's squad. Her younger sister, Julia, and fellow sophomore Samantha Gregoryk have helped the Mavericks continue their recent history of strong pitching.
Meanwhile, Emma Helm — a freshman — and Hailey Costello are leading the Meadowdale offense with four home runs apiece.
Still, the Mavericks (16-2 overall) aren't taking anybody lightly in the district tournament.
“It feels like we just got through spring training and now the season starts,” Hopkins said. “All bets are off.”
Meadowdale, which features two seniors on varsity this season in Tiffany DeWayne and Ashley Brooke, looks to clinch one of the district's three berths to the state tournament where the Mavericks hope they can make another deep playoff run.
“Districts is one thing, because everyone knows the outcome of districts is state,” Hopkins said. “They got a taste of state and they want to keep going to it. They're going to do whatever they can to get back. It's tough to get back to state three years in a row — in any sport. We're not booking our hotel rooms just yet.”
Can Terrace's mashers carry the Hawks back to state?
Maddy Kristjanson has been tearing it up at the plate for Mountlake Terrace all season. The senior, who has belted 10 home runs this year, will be instrumental if the Hawks are to return to state for the second-consecutive season.
“I'm actually shocked that more people don't walk her,” said Mountlake Terrace head coach Shannon Rasmussen. “She gets up there and you can tell that they're trying to pitch around her. She can pretty much hit for power and I feel like anytime we've needed a big hit from her she's come up and nailed it.”
Kristjanson isn't the only Hawk that's had success with the long ball. Hannah Wilcox has hit five home runs and Hannah Baisch has eight doubles and three home runs for Mountlake Terrace.
“We have a great group of girls,” Rasmussen said. “We do a lot of live hitting at practice. I think that's a huge thing. For the most part, we've just got girls that are pretty solid hitters. They come through and hit for us and we tend to score a lot of runs.”
The Hawks are looking to rebound from a tough end to the regular season that saw Mountlake Terrace end with a three-game losing streak. Mountlake Terrace hopes to rebound in the district tournament against Marysville Pilchuck, which beat the Hawks twice this season by a score of 3-2.
“It was definitely a tough way to end our last week,” Rasmussen said. “... I think we're in a great spot. We get to go out and play Marysville Pilchuck. We've lost to them twice but have been in it both games.”
While Rasmussen thinks the Hawks may have been a bit surprised to win their first two district games and get to the state tournament last season, she said this year the team has that postseason experience and knows what it's capable of.
“I think we've got a pretty good group of girls that have that leadership and experience,” Rasmussen said. “We have a core group of returners and now they know we can go out there and do it.”
How good is Ferndale?
The Golden Eagles softball team is a bit of a mystery coming into the 3A District 1 Tournament. Having played nearly its entire schedule in a conference populated with 1A and 2A teams, Ferndale, the only 3A team in the Northwest Conference, has an impressive 19-1 record, but it's hard to figure out how that measures up against Wesco teams.
Ferndale did play one game against a Wesco opponent in Everett in the season opener on March 17. Lauren Maley threw a three-hit shutout and had three RBI from the plate and Kadence Kane hit a home run to lead Ferndale to an 8-0 win over the Seagulls.
If Meadowdale, Marysville Pilchuck and the rest of the Wesco teams in the 3A tournament want to stop Ferndale, they'll have to stop Maley. The junior is Ferndale's leader in the circle, compiling a 14-1 record, and also at the plate with a .448 batting average.
The Golden Eagles only loss of the season came nearly two months ago when they lost to Sedro-Woolley 4-2. Since that game, they've outscored opponents 153-30 to win 16 straight.
Ferndale is slotted as the No. 2 seed from the South and faces Stanwood in the first round of the tournament, with a matchup against Mountlake Terrace or Marysville Pilchuck in the semifinals and possibly Meadowdale in the championship game.
Can Granite Falls win districts?
Just looking at the Tigers record would indicate that the answer to that question is obviously yes, but not so fast. Looking deeper at the Granite Falls schedule indicates something more.
The Tigers finished 17-1 in the Cascade Conference and 18-2 overall and ran away with the league championship. Of those 18 victories, eight were by just one run and three more were two-run victories. On the positive side, that means the Tigers know how to win close games. On a negative side that means more than half of their victories were far from a lock.
Lakewood, Archbishop Murphy and Cedarcrest all challenged Granite Falls at various times in the season, but Sultan was the only league team to find a way to beat them. The Turks are the Cascade Conference's best bet of another upset in districts, but wouldn't face the Tigers until the championship game on the winner's side of the bracket.
The Tigers biggest challenge outside of the Cascade Conference likely come from Burlington-Edison (13-7) and Lake Washington (15-1). Burlington-Edison enters the district tournament riding an 11-game win streak and has scored 10 or more runs in four of its past five games. Lake Washington spent most of its season beating up on 3A and 4A teams from Kingco and is led by freshman pitcher Tori Bivens, who threw a two-hitter against Arlington in March.
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