We set the softball time machine back 10 short years and asked Gena Greenside to step inside.
“No,” insisted Rogers High School’s senior first baseman. “I couldn’t play.”
Wasn’t slowpitch the only game to play back then if a girl wanted to call herself a state champion? And isn’t slowpitch, well, slower than the game of choice now?
“I’m just not good at it,” Greenside explained. “It’s like when we play one of the lower teams in our league. Our coach just takes some of us out half the time because we can’t hit slower pitching and our batting averages just drop.”
Fast forward, then, to this morning, as the State AAA fastpitch tournament opens here at Franklin Park - one of the four sports strewn across our landscape this weekend making up Springfest ‘95. Sixteen teams begin play before traffic even has a chance to jam, with Rogers being the great - and only - local hope.
History is not exactly on the Pirates’ side. In the three previous official state fastpitch tournaments, Greater Spokane League teams have won just twice.
“We went two years ago and got a taste of this,” said Rogers coach Paul Cooley, whose Pirates bring a 21-5 record to the plate. “I don’t think they’ll be satisfied with just making it to state this time.
“And I’d have to say our girls are a little more hungry.”
You’d have to say. Remarkable as some of the athletic breakthroughs have been at Rogers this school year, the girls teams in volleyball, soccer and basketball have struggled mightily. For the girls who played on those teams - and most of Cooley’s squad plays two or three sports - this is something of a payback.
“I used to like basketball more, but I didn’t have much fun this year,” said Greenside, who will attend the Community Colleges of Spokane on a basketball scholarship next fall. “It’s just a lot more fun when you have success. We have a lot of talent in softball - and the team’s always been good, so there’s the expectation that we should be good, too.”
The Pirates are good, though they may have even surprised themselves last weekend by winning the regional tournament - a GSL first. They have the customary senior nucleus, a couple of precocious sophomores and the ultimate fastpitch requisite: great pitching.
Senior Traci Moore broke into Cooley’s lineup as a freshman and has since compiled a 63-21 record - including seven shutouts and a no-hitter this spring.
She throws hard - better than 60 mph - but doesn’t merely throw hard.
“She’s not an overwhelming pitcher,” Cooley contended, “but she is one of the smartest I’ve seen. She’s able to change speeds and hit spots. A lot of coaches have to hope their pitcher doesn’t walk people. I can ask her to throw a ball to a spot and she’ll put it there.”
Thus, the Pirates generally need to manufacture but a few runs and to do that Cooley often turns to “the short game - you bunt, run, hit-and-run and bunt some more.” In a shocking 12-1 romp over top-seeded Richland in the regionals, the first two Rogers batters reached on bunts and a third loaded the bases by beating out an attempted sacrifice. It all led to a five-run first inning.
That’s Cooley’s philosophy “because occasionally you’re going to run into a pitcher who’s so dominating she can beat anybody” - which, of course, was the fear that had fastpitch opponents digging in against change for years. But Rogers’ regional scores of 9-4, 12-1 and 4-3 would indicate that offense has hardly been stifled.
It’s fitting that the state tournament has finally come full circle to Spokane, for the GSL fairly dragged the state into the fastpitch age.
The Vancouver-area schools had played fastpitch for years against their rivals across the river in Portland, but there was no stirring statewide until the GSL switched to modified fastpitch in 1985 - giving up the grail of sending teams to the state tournament.
Four times the GSL tried to get the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association membership to allow schools the freedom to choose between modified and slowpitch. Four times the proposal was voted down. Not until a group in Edmonds filed a lawsuit in 1987 was there any significant movement.
In 1990, the GSL switched to fastpitch. By ‘91, there was an eight-team invitational state tournament. And now, not a single AAA school plays slowpitch.
It’s a ready-for-prime-time game which, alas, won’t be played in prime time. Games today and Saturday will start at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m., so Franklin’s overworked fields can be cleared for another tournament in the evenings - not exactly the kind of showcase the WIAA imagined when it hatched Springfest.
This is definitely no way to treat the ladies.
But beyond this weekend, Cooley would like to see the GSL change its approach to be more like the Big Nine, which plays doubleheaders, night games and a one-day district tourney - “a true tournament format,” he said.
Mostly, he’d like to turn on the lights. The Pirates and Mead moved their last league game this spring to a 5:45 start - and saw the average crowd of 50 increase maybe 500 percent.
Of course, as busy as it is at Franklin, the girls will have to take a number. Let’s hope it isn’t another 10-year wait inside the time machine.
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