The Greater Spokane League slow pitch softball is in its seventh autumn. In the previous five seasons, when it comes time to carve jack-o’-lanterns, Central Valley High School has reached the league championship games.
“The first season we played slow pitch, University played Rogers for the title,” CV coach Joe Stanton said. “The last five, we’ve played U-High in the championship game. Ferris did a great job last season and they won the regular season championship. But by the time we got to the playoffs and the championship game, there we were playing U-Hi one more time.”
Streaks like that don’t happen by accident. Central Valley and University are more than cross-district rivals; they both are beneficiaries of the Spokane Valley Girls Softball Association and the Valley-based Spokane Girls Fastpitch Softball Association. Girls begin playing softball at age 5 and stay in the league until they’re 18.
By the time players reach high school, Stanton insists, they already are well grounded in the game’s fundamentals – some reach high school having played 10 seasons of softball.
“They’re all solid fundamental players by the time they get here,” Stanton said. “And the great thing is that a lot of them have played together a long time before they get here.”
Once they do arrive at Central Valley, he said, the coaches don’t have to teach the game – they just work to refine it.
“We approach both games, slow pitch and fast pitch, the same way,” Stanton said. “You have to play good defense in both – especially with slow pitch. You don’t have a pitcher to get you a strikeout when you need it in slow pitch. And you hit the same in both – you just slow things down a little for slow pitch. In fact, slow pitch can really help your fast pitch swing. When you slow it down, you can fix little things that you might miss when you speed your swing up.”
There’s not a lot that needs fine tuning this season.
“I think this group has the chance to be the best defensive team we’ve had here at CV,” the coach said. “We have a solid starting group and our bench is made up of players who would start on just about any other team in the league. We have several players who I am sure will go on and play softball at the next level.
“We’re a senior dominated group – we’re starting six seniors – and I think our younger players understand that you have to wait your turn.”
This year’s Lady Bears are led by a trio of senior captains – most of whom grew up playing softball together with the Liberty Lake Lightning – playing a lot of softball and playing in a lot of high-caliber softball tournaments.
“These three players do a great job as leaders,” Stanton said. “Brittani Gilbert, who plays first base, and Taylor Wayman, who plays rover, are vocal leaders who do a great job of keeping everyone moving in the same direction. Our shortstop, McKenzie Shea, is more of a lead-by-example type and she is just rock-solid defensively. She leads by setting a great example for our younger players with her work ethic.”
Stanton said he’s regularly amazed with the way Shea plays in the field.
“The great thing about McKenzie is the way she reads and understands the game,” he said. “You watch her and she’s just always in position. If someone hits a ball to shortstop, you look up and she’s positioned herself to make the play. She reads hitters and anticipates where they’re going to hit the ball as well as anyone I’ve seen.”
Shea is the defensive leader, he said, but she’s not the team’s only defensive standout.
“Another senior who is doing a great job for us is our third baseman, Cheyenne Abele,” Stanton said. “She’s a defensive stud and she just crushes the ball.”
The Bears return three All-GSL first-teamers from a year ago, including Hailee Holley in addition to Gilbert and Shea.
Stanton said the type of team CV has this season came through in a showdown this past week with North Central, another of the GSL’s top teams. The Bears were down by two runs heading into their final at-bat.
“With two out in the bottom of the seventh, Taylor comes through with a two-run single to win the game for us,” the coach said. “And to be honest, there was no doubt in her mind that she was going to come through with that game-winning hit. I think you could say that about all of our players. They’re the kinds of players who want to hit with the game on the line. They want the other team to hit the ball to them. They want the ball.
“And that’s what makes a winning program.”
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