By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SNOHOMISH — When asked if Trysten Melhart is the best softball player in the history of Snohomish High School, head coach Lou Kennedy paused for a moment to reflect before he gave his answer.
“Yep,” he finally replied. “I’ve only been here for about 17 years and (Snohomish has) had some great players and they’ve had some great pitchers, but top to bottom a complete player that can go do anything — yep.”
It’s a notion that seems difficult for the humble Melhart to accept. After all, it was just a little more than three years ago when all she wanted was to make the Panthers’ varsity team.
“Freshman year, I was nervous because I wanted to make varsity really bad and when I did it was like the most amazing feeling ever,” she said.
She broke the school record for batting average that season and has broken her own record each year since.
Her efforts this season and throughout her high-school career have made her an easy choice for The Herald’s 2014 All-Area softball Player of the Year.
Melhart, who will play softball at the University of Washington, batted .658 as a senior, up from .625 as a junior, .556 as a sophomore and .543 as a freshman.
In her final two years of high school, Melhart hit 20 doubles, 20 triples, three home runs, scored 87 runs and had 48 runs batted in. Even more impressive, she struck out just seven times.
“Her improvement over four years has just been total effort and work based,” Kennedy said. “She’s just a machine that keeps pushing and pushing and pushing herself. That’s why she gets the results she does.”
Of course, it helps that Melhart is always the fastest player on the field, something Kennedy took notice of right away when she was a freshman.
“You’re looking at this little teeny-tiny thing and you watch her hit a ball and just burn down to first base and you’re like, ‘Hmmm, you can work with that,’” Kennedy said. “It raises eyebrows and makes you smile and gets you aware that this kid is really going to be good if she continues to develop.”
And she did.
When her high school career began, Melhart was predominantly a slap-hitter. Each year since she’s improved her power at the plate.
“You could see a progression going from slapping and placing the ball and beating everything out,” Kennedy said. “The next year, it’s a little bit of laying it in the gaps in the outfield so that (teams) had to be a little bit more respectful (of her). By the third year, it was hit the ball in the gap and try to make two (bases) out of it. This year, it was just crush the ball in the gap and make three.”
Including the playoffs, the Panthers played 27 games this season. Melhart led off seven of them with triples.
“Who does that? Almost a third of our games she started the game off by banging a triple and standing on third base,” Kennedy said. “That’s astounds me and I’m sitting there watching it.”
It isn’t just offense where Melhart shines.
“She’s always been a great outfielder,” Snohomish assistant coach Jeff Hise said. “She’s as good as anybody I’ve ever seen at judging the ball off the bat. She gets a phenomenal jump on the ball and makes a lot of what would be hard catches for most outfielders look really easy.”
For all of Melhart’s accolades in her first three years of high school, the one thing she wanted more than anything was the one thing that eluded her and her teammates — a trip to the state tournament.
When Melhart was a sophomore the Panthers placed third in the 4A district 1 tournament, but fell to Inglemoor in the Wesco/Kingco winner-to-state/loser out crossover game.
A year later the story was similar. Despite losing just two regular-season games, the Panthers lost the district semifinals to Lake Stevens. Snohomish went on to place third again, but lost to Newport in the crossover game.
“One year is frustrating enough and then to do it a second time, it gets you really upset,” Melhart said. “This year we were like, ‘Third time’s a charm. We got this.’ We had the mentality that we were going to state right when tryouts started. We were like, ‘If you don’t want to be here to go to state then you shouldn’t be here. This is the wrong team for you.’”
It was clear the Panthers meant business, winning their first 18 games before finally stumbling against Lake Stevens. They entered the district tournament as an overwhelming favorite with just the one loss.
Snohomish shut out Cascade 10-0 in the first round to set up a semifinal meeting with Lynnwood. The Royals hung around briefly, but the Panthers pulled away. Leading the charge was Melhart, who, in arguably the biggest game of her high-school career batted, 5-for-5.
The last of those hits was a walk-off, three-run home run.
“That was a cool way to end that game,” Hise said.
The following week, Melhart’s inexperience in the state tournament didn’t show. She batted 5-for-5 in a first-round victory over Wenatchee and had four of Snohomish’s five hits in a quarterfinal loss to eventual state-champion Puyallup.
In games at state, Melhart batted 11-for-15 with one double, four triples, four RBI and five runs scored.
“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years in baseball and softball, select and high school, and she’s the best player I’ve ever coached,” Hise said. “She’s got it all.”
The Panthers went on to place seventh — their season, and Melhart’s career as a Panther, ending with a 3-2 loss to Redmond.
“I was more sad about never playing with those girls ever again than I was losing in state,” Melhart said. “That wasn’t that much of a big deal to me. I was happy with how much we’ve accomplished and how dedicated we’d been this season.
“I’m proud to be a Panther and I would not trade my high-school softball experience for anything,” Melhart added while fighting back tears. “We’ve just kind of been like a family through all the years and the coaches are amazing and they’ve been really supportive. They’re just awesome people in general, not just as coaches, but as people — all of the girls are. I’m going to miss them all.
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.