SOFTBALL: Cougars have best finish in school history

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

Madi Koler applies a tag during Chewelah’s game against Liberty on Saturday. (Brandon Hansen photo)

Cougars win four games at state, bring home a well-deserved trophy…

It was fitting, perhaps, that the final at-bat of Chewelah’s season was by senior Madi Koler who did her best to hustle down to beat Northwest Christian’s throw to first base. While it was recorded as the final out in the scorebook, waiting for Koler at the base was her dad Lace and emotion immediately took over for the powerhouse player. The two hugged as the tears flowed and it was one heck of a representation of what a family the Chewelah softball program has become.

“When it all came to an end it all hit me like a ton of bricks,” Koler, who is playing college softball next year, said. “After the last out it was a bunch of emotions, sadness that it’s over, all the memories just flooded in.”

The seniors of this group have been special as they’ve been around for three consecutive trips to state.

Bailey Smith, Madison Koler, Kennedy Robison, Kyli Paluck, Miranda Ehlert and Haylee Hunter-Lee were the seniors on the team this year and you’d be hard-pressed to ignore their contributions to the Cougars’ success.

“The seniors this year are very special,” Robison said. “Many of this years seniors have been playing since we were eight years old in youth league and during the summer on traveling club teams.”

Both Koler and Robison will be going on to play college softball.

“Off the field, many of us are 12-year seniors and are close friends which I feel our respect for one another reflects during our games and practices,” Robison said. “Our seniors and team are competitive athletes who want to give their best, win, and display good sportsmanship.”

Overachievers the previous two years, the Cougars overcame playing bigger schools, more storied or higher-ranked softball programs and finished in fifth place twice in the State 1A Tournament. This year, the senior class that Koler is a part of helped power the best finish ever by a Chewelah team on the softball team. The Cougars’ 8-3 loss to NWC could hardly erase the accomplishment of a top four finish in the state.

“It really hasn’t sunk in yet but I’m sure it will,” Chewelah pitcher Abby Fuller said. “We kept the momentum up by having fun, cheering and focusing on the game and not on how tired we were.”

Zandra Nelson has several big hits for the Cougars during their second day run at the State Tournament. (Brandon Hansen photo)

Chewelah won four games at the state tournament, playing the same knock out role they had played in previous years. They got on Brewster early, looked like they might have eventual state finals runner up Pe Ell-Willapa Valley on the ropes early, then ended the season of Toledo, Friday Harbor and Liberty.

“Honestly it feels great,” Koler said the day after. “It goes to show all the blood sweat and tears put into this game by everyone of us has paid off. I couldn’t be more proud of everything we got accomplished this season.”

Those teams became just another mark on the laundry list of squads that have felt the sting from the Cougars including No. 1-ranked Montesano last year, and top-ranked undefeated Cle Elum in 2017.

The emotion felt at the end of the third-fourth place game was warranted. The consolation bracket in the State 2B Tournament is like “The Hunger Games” with bats. Chewelah had to play four games in eight hours and finished things early Saturday evening with plenty of scrapes, cuts, bruises, sunburns and that’s just the fans we’re talking about (You try sitting on metal bleachers all day!). What they got in return was a treasure chest of memories and a cap to the Cougars’ first year in the 2Bs.

“This team has a good bit of experience in the travel ball world, we had kids who’ve been travel ball since they could pick up a bat,” Koler said. “From travel ball you have the hitting coaches, to all the work they put in the winter with working out and nonstop camps.”

The athletic programs for Chewelah, which had struggled in the 1As for years because they simply didn’t have the numbers. Chewelah softball has been the exception but overall, the move to 2B means more Cougar athletes have found success for their hard work. There were state champion wrestlers, teams consistently competing for league titles, winning streaks, dominant performances and some deep runs at state.

Last weekend was also a big win for the Chewelah fans, who braved the Yakima trip and long state softball tournament days to cheer on the Cougars.

“The fans were the best, we couldn’t of had better,” Smith said. “They pumped us up before and during each game and were excited about everything. Definitely going to miss the parents.”

“We got some great support in the stands and dugouts from parents, friends, and softball alumni,” Robison said. “We just tried to stay in the moment and keep the hits coming.”

Abby Fuller makes a great throw to first base against Northwest Christian. (Brandon Hansen photo)

NWC 8, Chewelah 3

Chewelah had lost to NWC three times before and were hangry (hungry and angry) to get back at their NE 2B North rivals. It showed in the second inning when they jumped out to a 3-1 lead through three innings and the dugout was louder than a heavy metal concert.

Chewelah took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second thanks to an RBI double by Madison Koler and a Bailey Fuller RBI ground out. In the third inning, Zandra Nelson singled to bring home Bailey Smith.

In the bottom of the fourth, however, NWC would score two runs to tie things up and then three more in the fifth and another two insurance runs in the sixth. There was a brief scary moment during these rallies when pitcher Abby Fuller covered home and was upended by a sliding-in NWC runner. The cleats cut open her socks but didn’t break the skin. After a brief moment on the ground to recover, Fuller resumed her pitching, but just with a little more anger.

“When the girl slid into my leg it was mostly the sock that got cut open, the cleat just skimmed my shin but didn’t do much damage,” Fuller said. “But throughout the state tournament I gained many more battle scars!”

(Fuller obviously took the moment better than the Chewelah parents, fans and media turning blue in the stands)

Chewelah did load the bases in the top of the sixth while trailing just 6-3, but a fielder’s choice at home plate, a strike out and a ground out from baserunner’s interference ended the rally.

NWC finished with 12 hits and finished third a year after winning the State 2B title. Chewelah finished with 11 hits and probably enough salt for the offseason to be determined to defeat the Crusaders next year.

“Going into this year we expected some competition and some good games but weren’t really sure what we were going to see,” Koler said. “Skok just told us to expect a dog fight and play hard give it all you got. State for 2B’s wasn’t all too different, you know everyone’s there because they all earned it and are good at what they do you just have to go out and be the best you can be in that moment and leave it all out there every chance you get.”

In their final game of the season, Bailey Smith Leah Carpenter, Baylee Sobosky and Kennedy Robison each had hits. Zandra Nelson crushed the ball for three hits and an RBI, while Madison Koler notched two hits and an RBI. Abby Fuller also had two hits in the game. Koler and Sabosky had doubles.

In the circle, Fuller threw 72 pitchers, 80 percent of those for a strike, and allowed six earned runs. She didn’t five up a single walk and got four groundouts and nine flyouts.

Top 2B pitcher Alison Shaler managed three strikeouts against the Cougs, well below her average. The Cougars also put more balls on the ground – 10 – compared to flyouts – 5.

Bailey Smith tags out a Liberty baserunner at the state tournament. (Brandon Hansen photo)

Chewelah 12, Liberty 3

It was the Bailey Smith show for the Cougars as she notched four singles and Liberty struggled to handle her approach at the plate in a 12-3 loss to the Cougars in the State 2B consolation bracket on Saturday. It was Abby Fuller, however, who did the most damage driving in four runs.

“I learned slap hitting this year,” Smith said. “[Coach] Tom [Skok] said I should’ve done this all high school.”

At this point in the tournament, it was almost becoming routine for the Cougars as they found a tempo on the second day and seemingly just played like business as usual despite the stakes and despite being tired.

“We were pretty tired but we never gave up we put our all into each and every game,” Fuller said.

In the first inning Madison Koler drove in two runs while Abby Fuller drove in another for a 3-0 lead. Fuller had a sac fly in the top of the third, with Kennedy Robison tagging up. In the fourth inning, Baylee Sabosky and Koler each drove in runs while Fuller singled to bring in another two runs for the 8-0 lead.

Lead Carpenter snatched an RBI single in the fifth with a 9-0 lead and the Cougars added more runs in the top of the seventh with an RBI from Carpenter and Koler.

Kennedy Robison had two hits and a double in the game, while Leah Carpenter pitched a complete game, giving up zero earned runs and striking out five.

Chewelah had 14 hits as a team. The win secured Chewelah’s best finish in a softball state tournament… ever.

“All I wanted this year was to get better than fifth because that’s what we’ve gotten the past two years,” Smith said.

Jessie Macrae catches a pop foul during Chewelah’s win over Friday Harbor. (Brandon Hansen photo)

Chewelah 7, Friday Harbor 2

Chewelah pulled away from Friday Harbor with 11 team hits, downing their opponents 7-2 in their second game on Saturday. Madison Koler had three hits in the matchup while Baylee Sobosky drove in three runs.

Abby Fuller pitched a masterful game, striking out eight and giving up just one earn run while scattering five hits.

“What worked out for me pitching this weekend was just pitching hard and in the places Coach Skok was calling,” Fuller said. “Also knowing that if they hit the ball the defense behind me would be there to help me get out of each inning.”

In the top of the second, Chewelah went up 1-0 thanks to an RBI single by Bailey Smith but Friday Harbor would tie the game back up in the bottom of the third. Chewelah would answer back in the top of the forth with several errors by Friday Harbor resulting in a run, then Bailey Smith getting to first on a dropped third strike and Erica Tindal scoring for a 3-1 lead. The game momentum never shifted towards Friday Harbor’s favor and the Cougars kept a cool head.

“I think we all knew what we wanted and went for it and played really good as a team,” Smith said. “It was all heart on Saturday, we knew it was the last time we would all be playing together so we tried to have fun and put everything we had out there.”

Madison Koler scored on a passed ball in the top of the fifth, while a Bailey Fuller single scored Kennedy Robison for the 5-1 lead. Chewelah rounded out their scoring after a Bailey Sobosky RBI single allowed Zandra Nelson and Leah Carpenter to score.

Lead Carpenter had a triple in the game as well.

Leah Carpenter delivers a pitch against Toledo for the Cougars. (Brandon Hansen photo)

Chewelah 15, Toledo 1

Chewelah started the morning off right with a 12-0 lead in the first three innings of their 15-0 victory over Toledo on Saturday in the State 2B Tournament. Bailey Smith led the way with three hits including a double and an RBI, while Leah Carpenter allowed just one hit and struck out three in the circle.

It was an important game for the Cougars, who had suffered a loss against Pe-Ell Willapa Valley the night before. The game appeared to give the Cougars their grove back.

“The game against Pe Ell/Willapa was rough and we made a lot of mental errors,” Robison said. “I feel that we used that defeat to give us a boost against Toledo and the remainder of the tournament. We were there to win and to not go home.”

Zandra Nelson had two hits and three RBI, while Leah Carpenter helped her own cause with two triples and three RBI. Baylee Sobosky also had a hit and three RBI in the game. Madison Koler had a double and a triple and finished with two RBI.

Kennedy Robison notched a double and an RBI in the game.

Chewelah had 13 hits as a team.

“In our league we saw a lot of the same pitching that we saw in State from most the teams so I feel like we were prepared,” Robison said. “We have several strong hitters that helped keep the momentum going. Hitting is contagious!”

Bailey Smith used her bat as the team’s leadoff hitter masterfully. Slap bunting or just plain ol’ hitting worked well for the senior who had several multi-hit games in the second day of the state tournament.

Kennedy Robison’s glove apparently exploded from old age or overuse. This is trouble because Robison is the team’s first baseman. Her dad almost tried to repair the glove with his shoelaces, before they found out that the team had a glove repair kit, otherwise Robison would have been playing at state with a glove held together by her dad’s shoelaces.

By the second day of the state tournament and Chewelah’s eight hour marathon through the consolation bracket, we’re pretty sure the entire crowd was missing their hometown. Except for the Koler family. They brought enough food to survive the apocalypse and served as the defacto cafeteria on the Cougar side of the stands.

Bailey Fuller – she is an eighth grader and she’s squaring up against the defending state champion pitcher from NWC like it aint no thing. Four more years of this player? Who know what is in store for the Fuller sisters and this Chewelah team in the future.