SNOHOMISH — The Snohomish softball program spent most of this millennium going through a 14-year state-tournament drought.
But those days seem like a distant memory now.
After capturing the program’s first-ever state title last spring, the defending Class 4A champion Panthers are set to make their fourth consecutive state-tournament appearance — this time at the 3A level, following the recent statewide reclassification.
It’s been an unprecedented era of success for the Snohomish program, which hadn’t reached state since 2000 prior to its current four-year run. Playing a major role in the ascendance has been an ultra-talented group of upperclassmen, several of whom have started since they were freshmen.
“Sometimes, you just get the horses,” Panthers coach Lou Kennedy said. “(When) you get a group that size with that much talent, it’s every coach’s dream. You ride it out as long as you can, and keep plugging and filling in where you can. It’s been quite a run.”
Snohomish (21-2) has compiled a dominant season, outscoring its opponents by 10.9 runs per game while pounding out 16 mercy-rule wins and 19 victories by double-digit margins.
The Panthers, who have lost only three conference games in the last four years, went a perfect 18-0 in league play this spring. They won 21 consecutive games before falling in the district championship to Meadowdale — a team they throttled last month in a 16-1 mercy-rule victory.
Snohomish will begin its quest for back-to-back state titles with a first-round matchup against Lake Washington (17-6) at 9 a.m. Friday at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey.
“We had a great season and we won a lot of games, but it’s a whole new ballgame now,” Kennedy said. “It starts over, tournament style — win or be done.”
The Panthers are led in the circle by standout junior pitcher Bailey Greenlee, who had big shoes to fill this spring. She replaced Alyssa Simons, a current University of Washington softball player who helped carry Snohomish to the state title last year with a sub-1.00 earned-run average.
But Greenlee has picked up right where Simons left off.
The hard-throwing righty has a 0.92 ERA in 91 innings pitched and has limited hitters to a .108 batting average. She has 175 strikeouts and only 21 walks, equating to an 8.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an average of 1.9 strikeouts per inning.
“Alyssa did really, really good, so there was pressure in that aspect,” Greenlee said. “I just kind of go in and think, ‘The only person that’s going to beat me today is me, so hit your spots. Do your thing.’”
Greenlee said she began pitching at age 9 after becoming a fan of former UW star hurler Danielle Lawrie. And like her childhood inspiration, Greenlee has at times been practically untouchable.
Greenlee has tossed three no-hitters this season, including two against state-bound Everett. The latest was a five-inning perfect game in a district semifinal win over the Seagulls that punched the Panthers’ ticket to state.
“Bailey’s got all the skill set in the world,” Kennedy said. “She throws as hard as anybody we’ve had for a long time and she’s got great movement to her pitches. She’s got a changeup that should come with a Hallmark card saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ the way she throws it.
“For her, it’s getting on the mound, getting in a good groove and just making sure she stays in a good groove,” he said. “She’s almost untouchable when that happens. … Her command when she’s in a groove is really, really something to see.”
With Greenlee’s exceptional pitching and a steady defense behind her that’s committed just 11 errors all season, Snohomish is yielding only 1.2 runs per game.
The offense has been equally impressive, averaging 12.1 runs per contest and scoring at least 10 runs in all but four games. The heavy-hitting Panthers feature eight players with at least 40 plate appearances who are batting above .400.
“It’s the kind of stuff most coaches just dream about getting,” Kennedy said of his team’s talented array of sluggers. “Most of the time when you’re making a lineup for high school, even last year, we tapered off a little bit at the end (of the order).
“But those kids now have another year under their belts and another offseason of hard work. So, shoot, we (could) easily go 13-deep.”
With so many strong hitters, there is no weak spot in the lineup.
“It’s reliable,” senior first baseman Riley Wales said. “And if one person’s down, that doesn’t mean that the game’s over. We’ve got eight other players, or players that can come off the bench and hit.
“That’s what’s so unique about this team is that we can we hit up and down the lineup. That’s really, really awesome and great to have — and rare as a high school team.”
Plenty of Snohomish batters have eye-catching numbers this season, but none have been more impressive than Wales. The left-handed-hitting Western Washington University signee is batting .592 with six homers, 19 extra-base hits, 42 RBI, 39 runs scored and a 1.098 slugging percentage — all of which are team bests.
“Rylie at the plate is a beast,” Kennedy said. “She can do everything. She’s a very clutch hitter. She’s probably the first one I want up if the game is on the line, because she likes that moment.”
After hitting .341 during a strong junior campaign last year, Wales improved her batting average by more than 250 points this season. Kennedy said the dramatic rise stems from better pitch selection and an improved ability to drive the ball to all fields. Wales also credits her offseason weight training at Excelerate Sport in Snohomish.
“I threw myself into weight lifting,” she said. “When I’m not in softball season, I lift four days a week. My trainers there — I’ve completely transformed as an athlete and they definitely got me to where I am today. And I thank them a lot for that.”
For Wales, Snohomish softball is a family affair. Her younger sister, Grace, is a freshman on the team and two of her cousins, Sami Reynolds and Emma Lande, are junior starters. Wales said the four cousins have been playing softball together since she was age 7, and three of them will be on the same club team this summer.
“I love playing with them,” Wales said. “All of our parents always say this is a really unique experience and that you’re going to really treasure this when you’re older. And I’m treasuring it now, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to look back and be like, ‘Wow, that was really cool. I got to play with (some) of my close family.’”
Wales gets one final chance to play high school softball with them and the rest of her teammates this weekend. And with the Panthers gearing up to make another run at the state title, the senior standout is confident in her team’s chances.
“We’re going to come out and give it our all and see how far it takes us,” Wales said. “If we come out playing our ‘A’ game, there’s nothing we can’t do.”