The Greater Spokane League has been playing slowpitch softball in the fall since 2005 as a way to get more girls involved with varsity athletics.
The state’s governing board adopted a nonsanctioned state tournament two years ago to help grow the sport again across the state – with Greater Spokane League teams winning the first two tourneys.
This season, a half-dozen leagues throughout the state added the sport. The Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has not only sanctioned the state tournament, but has expanded it to host a 4A bracket and a 3A/2A bracket.
Despite all the changes, GSL teams are still heavily favored in both classifications.
The state’s first fall slowpitch champion in 2017, the Mead Panthers, hope to be part of the title discussion again this season.
The slowpitch regular season ends today, with all 12 teams in the league playing doubleheaders. Mead (12-2) hosts Central Valley (12-1) with the top 4A seed to the district tournament at stake.
“We’re really excited,” Mead coach Tiffany Casedy said at practice on Wednesday. “It should be good games, a good day.”
Casedy, who played at Mead and Community Colleges of Spokane, was an assistant and JV coach before taking over as head coach of slowpitch for the 2017 season. She and her team are anxious to return to the state tournament, which they missed out on last season.
Casedy only has five returning starters from last season’s slowpitch team.
“We didn’t make (state) last year,” she said. “So, you know, a lot of them just … they don’t know what it’s like. But that seems to be working for us.”
“Basically, the whole season I’ve just said play like this game is a state championship,” Mead senior third base Peyton Cushner said. “I want to make it back to state so bad.”
But they have to face the Bears first.
“I don’t think that we’re really feeling any pressure. We’re not nervous,” Cushner said. “I think we’re just going to go in there with the same mentality we’ve had every other game, and hopefully take two wins.”
“I don’t really get nervous anymore,” junior outfielder Tori Veter said. “I mean, I think our team is ready. We’re super hyped up and we know that we can take first, so we’re all super excited about it.”
Cushner missed two week this season due to illness, but she said it was a valuable experience.
“I learned a lot from being able to see my teammates from the sidelines and being able to teach them,” she said. “You just see different things than when you’re playing.”
Casedy thinks folks quick to dismiss slowpitch are missing out. She explained that without dominant pitching, there is a higher premium on defense and placement hitting.
“When we won state two years ago, our defense was incredible and it changed the game,” she said. “I think they only scored three runs total on us that weekend (in three games) and our defense just knew what they were doing.”
Junior outfielder Grace Sykora echoed her coach’s sentiment.
“It’s honestly really difficult to play defensively in slowpitch because you have to be ready for every pitch, every single hit at every single moment,” Sykora said.
Casedy also singled out junior pitcher Annie Brose, who has 23 strikeouts entering play today.
“We would not be the team we are without her on the mound,” Casedy said. “She is a gamer and always a positive light for our team.”
Casedy is enthused about the growth of the sport across the state – even if that means it might be tougher to win a title in the future.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s just a different game than fastpitch, and so the fact that more kids are adapting to that and wanting to come out and wanting to play and more schools can form teams, just makes it more competitive all the way around.”
Ultimately, it’s another outlet for girls to experience sports at the varsity level.
“I think sports are so huge in a teenager’s life,” Casedy said. “It teaches you so much about life and about things after high school.
“And so for our girls to have that outlet in the fall is really awesome for them so they really get to feel like they belong.”