Members of the Lakewood High School softball team pose for a photo at the school on Wednesday. Lakewood opens state play on Friday in Selah. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Members of the Lakewood High School softball team pose for a photo at the school on Wednesday. Lakewood opens state play on Friday in Selah. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Chemistry key for state-bound Lakewood softball team

A mix of youth, veteran leadership and team chemistry propelled the Cougars to their first state berth since 2001

ARLINGTON — For nearly four years and 11 high school athletic seasons Jelly Perry never had a chance to compete at a state tournament.

That is all about to change.

The Lakewood High three-sport athlete has finally reached the state tournament in her last opportunity and will join her Cougars teammates at the Class 2A state softball tournament Friday at 10 a.m. when they take on Selah at Carlon Park in Selah.

“It’s a crazy feeling,” said Perry, who will play basketball next season at Skagit Valley College. “I’ve been looking forward to this and I wouldn’t have chosen a different team because I love these girls so much.”

The Cougars (17-6) are making their first state tournament appearance since 2001 and just their second-ever trip to the fastpitch state tournament. Lakewood reached the slowpitch state tournament five straight years from 1995-99.

Perry is one of just two seniors on this year’s team that starts five freshmen.

“No real big superstars — just a good chemistry of players,” head coach Travis Boortz said. “We got hot at the right time at the end of the year and played solid defense. We make the plays we are supposed to make, we have good pitching and we were able to clutch up and get the hits when we needed them. That’s what got us here.”

Lakewood finished the regular season tied for sixth in the Northwest Conference. The seventh-seeded Cougars beat Burlington-Edison in a district tournament play-in game, then knocked off second-seeded Lynden 9-6 and third-seeded Cedarcrest 7-4 to qualify for state and earn a berth in the district final where Lakewood fell 6-2 to top-seeded Sehome.

“I knew that we had a lot of talent on the team, I just didn’t know how we were going to do since we were so young,” said junior Olivia Poulton, one of the team captains. “Last weekend there were a lot of tears and a lot of emotions because we all love this sport so much. For something this big to happen, especially at Lakewood … it’s absolutely amazing.”

Youth has not hampered the Cougars. Freshman Riley Mae Swanson starts in the pitching circle and is one of a half-dozen Lakewood regulars hitting .400 or better. Catcher Ashtyn Falor is also a freshman who hits .400, while seniors Perry and Carmen Lopez are also hitting better than .400.

Playing with such young teammates made Perry a better leader, she said.

“I knew I had to keep myself accountable so they would keep themselves accountable,” she said.

The Cougars appeared poised to make a long postseason run last season. They finished in a four-way tie for second place in the Northwest Conference standings and won their first game as the No. 5 seed in districts. But then they dropped two straight and quickly found themselves out of the tournament.

“We’ve had some good teams in the past and just came up short,” Boortz said. “Things just kind of went our way this year. I’m not surprised. We’re excited for sure. We’re not satisfied with mediocrity. We’re going to go over there and fight and battle and compete and win. We don’t want to go over there just for the ride to say we went to state. We’re going to compete.”

Should the Cougars get past Selah they would play the winner of White River-W.F. West at 4 p.m. Friday. If Lakewood loses it would face the loser of the other first-round contest at 2 p.m. Consolation rounds continue Friday and Saturday with the championship semifinals and finals are scheduled for Saturday.

Lakewood bowed out in two games in the 2001 tournament so the main focus is getting that first state victory and hopefully making it to the second day.

The 17 wins are already a fastpitch school record. The Cougars are hoping to add a few more.

“You would never picture this group of girls coming in to play together,” Poulton said. “We’re just all really different, but we found something we have in common and we love it. It’s just a different feeling than last year.”

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