Since the inception of Greater Spokane League slowpitch softball, the title has usually gone through University or Central Valley.
This season was no different, as U-Hi finished as regular-season champs at 19-1 and won the district tournament as well, beating Mead 7-2 in the title game.
But for the first time in a long time, there was still more to play for.
And a funny thing happened – depending on your perspective, of course.
Mead turned the tables, winning three consecutive games by a combined 36-3 to capture the first slowpitch softball state championship in more than 20 years at Columbia Playfields in Richland on Oct. 28.
The state tournament pitted the top four GSL teams against the top four from the Greater St. Helens League. It was an arrangement the two leagues put together in an effort to build more support for the sport statewide and gain accreditation by the state’s high school sports governing body, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).
Mead beat Skyview 15-2 in the first round, knocked off Ferris 11-1 in a semifinal and shut out Central Valley 10-0 in the championship game.
Tori Veter had seven RBIs across the three games, including a homer in the first-round win.
“It’s exciting for these girls,” GSL slowpitch coach of the year Tiffany Casedy said at the team’s awards banquet on Nov. 7. “I didn’t really know what to expect coming into it. First time for state tournament we didn’t know what the other teams would be like. We showed up to play. It was pretty exciting.”
Casedy said the team has been enjoying rock-star treatment at school since the big win. The perennial state power volleyball team recognized the slowpitch team at a playoff match last week to honor its achievement.
Mead finished fourth in the regular season at 15-5, so while it was a bit of an upset, it’s not like the Panthers came out of left field.
“It was kind of all surreal,” Casedy said. “We just kept playing and CV and U-Hi had to play against each other for that championship (game) spot … and we found out it was CV – our biggest win this season, for placing and everything, was against CV to get into the championship in the GSL. So for my girls to have that knowledge that we can do this, we can win it, we can keep going. They kept pushing and kept battling.”
Sadie Bocook went 2 for 3 with two runs in the title game and hit a grand slam in the semifinal win over Ferris.
“I hadn’t hit a home run in forever so I really was wanting it,” Bocook said. “My first at-bat I was so nervous, so when I hit it I sprinted for first because I didn’t know if it was over (the fence). So when (the bench) threw their hands up it was literally the best feeling ever.”
Bocook was thrilled to know that a banner would hang in the gym with other state champs in Mead history. “To show that we won state, it’s like, wow,” she said. “We’re pretty proud of what we did.”
Ciara Harding, who pitched every inning at state, echoed the pride in the accomplishment.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “We worked so hard for this and we definitely came together at state and played as a team. And we had a blast doing it.
“We were definitely the underdogs. I know we’ve always wanted to beat U-Hi, but we didn’t get to this year. Being able to beat CV in a shutout game in the championship was – there’s no better feeling.”
The GSL has long been an advocate of slowpitch. What started as a way to comply with Title IX regulations has taken a life of its own. For Mead, 12 of its 13 slowpitch players also play on the fastpitch team in the spring.
It didn’t used to be that way. Casedy cites the fact two of her seniors played volleyball as freshmen until they saw the benefit of playing softball in the fall.
“It’s pretty important for these girls because a lot them, they work really hard, even over the summer playing fastpitch,” she said. “So to have something like this in the fall and have slowpitch and have something for them to work hard for and to strive for – it kind of gave the GSL and all the girls in all the leagues something to look forward to.”
Casedy thinks the state tournament opened some eyes with regard to the competition level in the sport.
“It gave everyone different ideas, different ways to go about things. I think for (the Greater St. Helens League) it gave them a little bit more of, ‘OK, we know where we’re at, we know what we can do, and let’s get there again next year.’
“I know they’re ready to bring back some really good teams for next year.”
But they’ll still most likely have to go through the GSL if they want to win a state title.