When last year’s Sehome High School fastpitch team saw their successful season come to an abrupt end a win shy of advancing to the state tournament for a second consecutive season, Head Coach Jim Emerson hoped the setback would light a fire under his young squad.
It certainly did. However, there’s fires and then there’s what the Mariners have done this season.
To get an idea, think along the lines of Irwin Allen’s “Towering Inferno” with a dash of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire which destroyed the city and you’d have somewhat of an idea of what burns inside this year’s team.
“I knew coming in we had the potential to be very good,” Emerson said, “but you don’t expect something like this. You just can’t draw that up.”
The Sehome offense, which sports a team batting average around the .425 mark, has scored a gaudy 245 runs, reaching double digits 14 times this season, while belting an unheard of 43 home runs.
You can’t fault Emerson. These are record-breaking numbers no one could anticipate. It’s video game-equivalent statistics. That is if said gamer was playing on the easy setting while at the same time using all the cheat codes.
It’s just plain impressive.
“We had a lot of players return from last year’s team,” Emerson said. “I think they saw what could have been and got this very large chip on their shoulder because of that. They worked extremely hard last summer and have just carried it over into this season.”
The Mariners will take a 23-1 record into the Class 2A state fastpitch tournament, which will be held May 26-27 at Carlon Park in Selah.
Sehome opens with co-2A Greater Saint Helens League champion Ridgefield (15-4) at noon.
This marks the seventh state tournament appearance for the Mariners in Emerson’s 14 seasons. The squad looks to make some history as they will attempt to secure the program’s first trophy.
“In all our other trips to state we have never played in a noon game. We’ve always had first-round games in the morning,” said Emerson, whose teams are a combined 1-5 all-time in the opening games of the state tournament with their lone victory coming in 2010 against North Mason, 3-1. “Sometimes it’s tough to get 15 players up and motivated to play early in the morning. Maybe this will be better for us.”
Motivation is something Sehome should have no problem summoning up for state as the Mariners are coming off their only defeat this season, losing a thrilling eight-inning battle to Mountlake Terrace (4-3) in the district championship game.
“We had opportunities,” Emerson said about the loss. “They were right there in a position to win. Hopefully, they come to state with that chip back on their shoulder.”
Spearheading Sehome’s offensive surge this year has been sisters Carissa and Tori McDowell. The twins have been an absolute nightmare for opposing pitchers. Prior to the district championship game, Carissa was hitting .623 with a team-leading 15 home runs. Tori wasn’t far behind batting .578 and smacked two home runs in each of the Mariners’ first two postseason games.
“When they get between those white lines,” Emerson said about the McDowell sisters, “they are about as intense as you can get. I really believe Carissa and Tori are two players who you can place at any position and they’d find a way to be successful.”
However, the bats don’t end there as catcher Megan Hall’s batting average is hovering around the .500 range, while fellow sophomore Natalie Zehnder has proven to be a tough out as well.
“It just hasn’t been our offense though,” Emerson said. “It’s been everything. It’s been our pitching and our defense as well. We’ve obviously put up some very good numbers hitting the ball, but all phases of the game have contributed to what we’ve accomplished.”
Sophomore pitcher Savannah Smith has been simply lights out this season for the Mariners, posting a 19-1 record with 177 strikeouts.
“She took her lumps last year as a freshman,” Emerson said, “and she’s learned from it and has worked so hard to get to where she is. A lot of pitching is confidence, and she has that this year. It’s funny, we had about an eight-year span where we probably had one quality pitcher. This year we have five we can turn to on the team if we need them.”
A victory in the first round over the Spudders would send Sehome into the quarterfinals to play the winner of Port Angeles (19-1) and Othello (16-8).
Port Angeles is making its fifth consecutive state tournament appearance, while Othello defeated Fife, 3-1, to capture last year’s 2A state title. The Huskies also finished third in 2015, second in 2014 and third in 2013 to go with state titles in 1999, 2002 and 2008.