With the top two 4A teams from last year (Walla Walla and Richland) now in the Mid-Columbia Conference and the season’s top 3A team (West Valley) now down in the 2A CWAC, the door is wide open for MOSES LAKE to make a move to the top. The Chiefs return standout first baseman Jazzmynn Jesse, last year’s CBBN offensive player of the year as a mere freshman, plus a pair of all-league outfielders and, most importantly, the league’s top battery in senior ace Haylie Van Laethem and catcher Tressa Radach.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Experience is in no short supply at EISENHOWER, where new coach Gary Jimenez, an assistant last year, welcomes back nine seniors, including three juniors – LHP Abigail Watkins, leadoff hitter and 2B Samantha Solomon and SS-turned-C Morgan Frost – who have been starting since they were freshmen. CF Destiny Sanford, a speedy defensive wizard, 3B Zoe Jimenez and RF Anissa Araiza are also returning starters for the Cadets. If Eisenhower’s offense can produce at the plate as well as its defense almost certainly will in the field, the Cadets may contend for the CBBN title. DAVIS has an outstanding turnout this year with a lot of promising newcomers led by P-SS Kori Gonzales-Hernandez and a solid nucleus of returning starters, including P Sara Turckheim-Coloj, C-P Jissel Osuna, CF Kaylin Brookman and Samantha Juarez, who’s moving from 2B to 1B. SUNNYSIDE’s huge turnout will enable the program to field three teams, and with just one senior graduated off last year’s team it’s a very experienced group. Both pitchers, juniors Amber Cornwell and Monique Gil, are back, as well as C Dalia Romo, the middle of the infield (SS Shawna Santini and 2B Cornwell), and the team is led by the lone senior, returning OF-3B Hannah Fernandez, flanked by returning CF Jessica Gomez.
Could there be a changing of the guard? SELAH, a state semifinalist each of the last two years, and ELLENSBURG, which has reached the last six 2A state tournaments and played for the title in 2009 and 2011, graduated a dozen seniors between them (seven and five, respectively). The Vikings return the league’s top pitcher-catcher battery in P McKenzie Zerr (the CWAC’s 2012 MVP) and C Sarah Bersing, but must replace basically their entire infield. The injury bug has also already hit Selah, as stellar OF and leadoff hitter Ashley Wilkey will miss the season with a knee injury and 3B Cheyenne Fletcher is sidelined with a bad shoulder. But Bersing and 1B Laura Steiner are both .500-plus hitters for the Vikings and Zerr is star both at the plate and on the mound, and coach Bill Harris has the luxury of juggling five capable pitchers. All-CWAC P Ally Burgess and OF Mackenzie Hughes are the key returners for Ellensburg, where the five returning starters include soph Allie Kopczynski, primed for a huge season after batting .630 (with 13 SBs) as a mere frosh. The Vikings and Bulldogs may have company at the top: A solid nucleus of all-league returners (notably INFs Kim Bullis and Daisy Salgado), plus a promising freshman pitcher, may help OTHELLO return to its accustomed place in the state tournament. The Huskies missed the big dance last year for the second time in four years after a run of 11 straight state-tourney trips.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
If anybody is going to move into the upper echelon alongside the CWAC’s big three (Selah, Ellensburg, Othello), it will probably be newcomer WEST VALLEY, which nearly reached the 3A state tournament last season before moving down to the 2A ranks this year. The Rams have a lot of holes to fill, having graduated seven starters, including five members of the all-CBBN 3A team, but junior P Halley Ringer will be one of the CWAC’s top pitchers. Another would-be returner, power-hitting Sydney Manning was an all-league DH last year as a mere freshman, but she’ll miss the season while rehabbing a back injury. 3B-OF Astoria Rice and C Gabby Bryant are the only other returners with varsity experience. PROSSER graduated the top three hitters in its lineup and has some eligibility question marks, but the Mustangs’ six returning starters include standout P Makayla Morrow, CF Gena Stephenson, versatile three-year starter (now at C) Hanna Beckwith, 1B-P Cheyenne Silva and UTIL-OF Brittany Keller, whose hitting has just come alive. It may take some time for perennial CWAC title contender EAST VALLEY to hit its stride, since the Red Devils graduated a dozen seniors and may start as many as eight freshmen this season. GRANDVIEW was in the middle of the pack last year before graduating its all-CWAC pitcher Ashley Van Tress, but an experienced and talented outfield may help keep the Greyhounds from slipping in the standings. TOPPENISH didn’t win a CWAC game last year, but returns eight starters and a ninth who got significant playing time. Junior RHP Ivanna Aguilar is back on the mound after missing most of last year with an ankle injury, and she’ll be backed by up-and-coming soph RHP Karli Wahpat. The Wildcats’ top hitters – 2B Yanet Cervantes, C Monica Lopez, 1B Alyssa Aguilera and CF-C Veronica Benavides – are all back. WAPATO returns five senior starters, including P Justine Sosa, who will share the mound duties with soph Jasmine Rivera, plus versatile leadoff hitter and INF Darian Gasseling and C Lydia Sosa.
Favorites? Not here. For the first time in years, there doesn’t seem to be any one team, or even any two teams, head and shoulders above everybody else. Graduation and injuries have taken such a toll on most programs that the SCAC West race looks to be absolutely wide open.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
It figures to be a rebuilding year at ZILLAH, which returns only two starters at the same position they played on last year’s 20-win team, C Kassidy Ruggles and 1B Lexie Wright. But the Leopards have two things not a lot of 1A programs have: a winning tradition and two reliable pitchers. The latter, sophomore Alexis Higginbotham and junior Kristale Treece, both came up from last year’s JV squad. GOLDENDALE has four returning starters, a number that would have been six except for injuries (including one to all-league OF Brooke Graff), plus another three or four players with varsity experience. Fortunately for the T-wolves, one of the returners is first-team all-SCAC West P-SS Crysta Counts. CLE ELUM has only one senior, OF Brandi Sutton, and must depend on soph P Sami Sweigard to carry the pitching load. The Warriors’ only returning starter, 3B Lindsey Vertefeuille, is moving to the OF as gifted freshman Courtney Brown and soph Caitlyn Twardoski take over at 3B and SS, respectively, part of a youth movement that will see first- and second-year players dominating the lineup. Last year’s sophomore-laden LA SALLE squad didn’t win any league games, but the still-seniorless Lightning could move up the standings this year behind seven returning starters, including P-1B Sydney Riel, P-OF Carly Brown and C Kaycie Saxton, the team’s top most prolific returning hitter. NACHES VALLEY has a relatively small turnout with just one returning senior, Kaylee Clark, and two juniors, and so will be relying heavily on sophomores and freshmen. One of those, RHP Kacy Heide, will have to carry the load on the mound until a second dependable pitcher emerges for the Rangers’ new coach, Tina Ross, a former all-CWAC performer who helped East Valley reach the 2004 2A state championship game. MABTON went 3-9 in SCAC East play last year, and every Viking player who earned all-conference honors graduated, leaving Mabton with new leaders as the team returns to its old haunts in the SCAC West.
Over in the SCAC East, all eyes will continue to be on two-year-reigning 1A state champion CONNELL, who return four first-team all-conference selections. The biggest one of all, literally and figuratively, is the Eagles’ dominating 6-foot-2 pitcher Ashley Thompson, who signed last winter with Brigham Young University (after previously being committed to Washington). In one doubleheader last year, she pitched a perfect game and slugged two home runs; as a mere sophomore, she struck out 18 batters in the state championship.
CLASS 2B AND 1B
WARDEN has reached the state tournament seven of the last eight years, and with two-time North Central 2B South MVP Iris Rodriguez back for her senior year, the Cougars will be tough again. So will KITTITAS, which won’t be the inexperienced team of 2012 that had only four players with much varsity background. The Coyotes graduated only two seniors from last year’s 17-7 team that reached the state tourney and return seven players who received first- or second-team or honorable mention status on the all-league team, including pitching ace Ashley Hayes, power-hitting outfielder Caitlyn Steiner and a star of the future, freshman Trinity Kies. The future looks bright for WHITE SWAN, which didn’t lose any players to graduation this year, but did lose three would-be returning starters to injury and other spring sports. Four returning Cougars, SS Barbara Whitesell, C (was OF) Rennae Bill and versatile UTIL players Cory Wabaunsee and Anika Bobb, earned all-league mention last year, and Wabaunsee and Bobb will probably share the pitching load. In the Greater Columbia 1B, KLICKITAT graduated only one player from its state-tourney team, on which nine of 13 players were sophomores or younger, and returns its top two pitchers in Chelci Curtis and Cassie Clark.