Here’s the conundrum facing Paul Cooley:
If a student aces each and every exam, how do you adequately assess just how much he or she has learned?
The West Valley High School fast-pitch softball coach has an undefeated team on his hands – one that shut out nine of its first 14 opponents and had an equal number of games shortened because his Eagles were ahead by 10 runs or more.
The team is good.
“We haven’t really been tested,” he said after a 10-0 shutout of Medical Lake on Wednesday. “I’m still not sure how good we are. I know we’re good. But how good?”
West Valley was good a year ago – finishing second in the Great Northern League – and most of that team returned this year.
“We’re a young team, but at the same time we’re not,” Cooley said. “Last year I had six members of the varsity who were freshmen. We lost a couple girls to graduation, and we have some good freshmen this year. So yes, we’re young. But we’re experienced at the same time. And we only have one senior this year.”
Pitcher Kelli Peckham summed it up.
“We’ve got really good hitting, we have a really good defense and we have really good pitching,” she explained. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, and I think we’re ready to take our game to the next level in the playoffs.”
It’s hard to argue. The offense averages just over 10 runs per game.
“We like to be aggressive and force teams to make plays,” Cooley said. “I sometimes get asked why we would run in certain situations, and I always tell them the same thing: We want teams to know that they’re going to have to make a play.
“I think we’re really solid, and I have a lot of confidence in our top six hitters. We’re not going to go through the top part of our lineup very often without scoring a few runs.”
Brooklyn Robinson is the team’s leading hitter, with multiple hits in nine games. Outfielder Cassie Finn adds pop to the lineup, belting three home runs thus far. Bailey Castor and Jess Mitchell both have multiple home runs.
Pitchers Robinson and Peckham, both juniors, have allowed a total of a dozen runs through 14 games and have given up as many as four runs in a game only twice.
“The cool thing is that Brooklyn and I are really very different pitchers,” Peckham said. “It’s tough for teams to adjust.”
Peckham, the team’s No. 1 starter, is a power pitcher with good velocity. Robinson is a finesse pitcher who changes speeds frequently to keep opposing hitters off-balance.
Meanwhile, the offense hits and scores consistently.
Through the first nine games of the season, the Eagles outscored their opposition by 110 runs (113-3), and going into a nonleague showdown with Lakeland on Thursday the team had outscored its opposition 148-12.
A key to the Eagles success, Cooley said, is its summer regimen.
“I can’t order anyone to do it, but I strongly urge everyone on the team to play summer softball,” he said. “I don’t want them to all play on the same team, either. I want them to play on other teams because that’s how you learn how good you really are. You could be the best player on one team and not crack the starting lineup on another.”
Cooley also has his team host softball clinics with the district’s elementary schools.
“I’ve been here long enough that we’re starting to get players on the varsity that started out coming to our clinics,” he said. “I think that’s been important for the program.”
This year’s team confidence got a major boost in a 3-1 season-opening win over Colville.
“We haven’t beaten Colville in my three years here,” Peckham said. “It felt so good to be able to beat them for the first time, and I think we all came out of that game thinking, ‘Wow, we are pretty good.’ ”
The confidence has yet to flag.
In a key doubleheader sweep of second-place Cheney, the Eagles won by scores of 6-4 and 7-1. By sweeping all three games with the Blackhawks, the team clinched the GNL regular season title and the No. 1 seed into the district tournament – all with five league games left in the regular season.
West Valley is assured a first-round bye in the district tournament and will qualify for regionals with a single victory.
After that, the tests get harder, and Cooley is eager to see how his young team responds.
“The regional tournament is going to be in Selah, and it should be a very good tournament,” Cooley said. “I think the biggest thing for us is that we haven’t really faced the kind of pitching you’re going to see at state,” he said. “That’s the big question.”
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