The temperature might have dipped into the 40s Monday evening, but that didn’t damper the enthusiasm of the players and coaches – or the generous and boisterous crowd – gathered under the lights at the Merkel Sports Complex as Mead and Mt. Spokane battled to try to settle the Greater Spokane League slowpitch softball championship.
As it turned out, that determination – and seeding to the District 8 3A tournament which starts Thursday – was made Tuesday morning by league officials pulling names out of a hat.
But it was the actions on the field that made the tiebreaking procedure necessary.
Mead took an early lead, never let off the pressure and beat Mt. Spokane 15-5 in five innings. In doing so, the Panthers created a three-way tie with Mt. Spokane and University atop the league, each with a single loss against one of the others.
On Tuesday, the teams found out the results: University (16-1, 11-1) secured the top seed, followed by the Wildcats (16-2, 11-1) and the Panthers (16-1, 11-1). Cheney earned the fourth seed (12-5, 10-3).
Mead coach Tiffany Casedy said she didn’t care how the seeding draw came out.
“For our team, we’re just super happy that, one, we’re in the playoffs. And two, we’re super excited just to play anyone and to just really just focus on the next game, the next task at hand. I don’t think they really care where it is. They’re just having a great time and they’re loving the game and loving each other.”
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter because we’re gonna work hard no matter where we’re placed,” Mead senior Kennedy Sather said. “Whether we’re seeded bottom six, we still would work our way up to winning.”
With the P.A. blaring walk-up music and student groups cheering their classmates on, the game Monday had the excitement of any other rivalry game.
“There’s definitely an extra layer of excitement,” Sather said. “There’s a lot more people out than normal, and it’s just a lot more of an intense game.”
“My favorite part is watching the freshmen go into this for the first time, because it’s so different for them,” Mead senior Bailey Wilkins said. “They’ve probably never done anything like it. So I just love watching that excitement for them and I love the atmosphere and the nerves – like, there’s a lot of nerves which almost makes everything better.”
“This is exactly why I coach,” Casedy said about the night game.
“We set this up, like, three years ago under the lights and we are so thankful that we’re able to do this. It’s … this for the girls. They love it, they enjoy it. Softball doesn’t always get that much attention and so to have that attention just at least one night on these girls that do put in just as much work as everybody else – they fight just as hard, they work every day at it.”
Mt. Spokane didn’t get the result it wanted in the game, but coach Carl Adams was enthused by the turnout for the evening rivalry game.
“It’s a great atmosphere and fun for the kids that we come out and we put this together for them because, you know, end of the day, that’s what’s all about.”
He noticed a lot of younger faces in the crowd, along with parents and other high school students.
“I think if you’re a kid watching us, they’re like, ‘That’s pretty fun. I think I’d like to do that when I get the chance to be part of that some day.’ So definitely, you know, this helps you grow the game in Spokane, I think it’s a good thing for sure.”
Mead came into the contest tied with U-Hi and a game behind Mt. Spokane. Mead’s victory was the culmination of a lot of hard work put in by the Panthers, according to Casedy.
“I’m just really excited for the girls that we have here, and everything that we’re doing,” she said. “They worked really hard all year. They’ve stayed focused. They’ve remained just such a good team through all kinds of adversity and I’m just really proud of them.”
Those in attendance were treated to a power display from both dugouts. Wilkins and Mt. Spokane’s Jessica Waters both homered. It was the sixth homer this season for Wilkins and No. 11 for Waters.
Wilkins said it’s the third time this season she and Waters have homered on the same day.
“Whenever one goes, the other follows,” she said. “It’s so funny. I always joke that we’re kind of ‘two peas (in a pod)’ right there.”
“I mean, between Jessica and their kid, Bailey, you saw two just really gifted hitters and, you know, they hit the ball a long ways on a cold night,” Adams said.
Waters is a natural pull hitter while Wilkins tries to drive it to the middle of the field – and is exceptional on defense at shortstop.
“What they can do with any ball coming at them is incredible. It’s amazing to watch,” Casedy said. “With Jessica, we know what her plan is, we know where to go with it and so we just try to execute the best we can defensively and hope for the best outcome for us.”
Casedy gushed over Wilkins, her team leader.
“She has come a long way from freshman year,” she said. “She’s always had the natural talent and just seeing her put in the mental work, and the mental piece of it – we needed that leadership this year – has been a joy for me.”
Wilkins praised her teammates, especially the younger ones, for making the season special.
“I mean, it’s the little things,” she said. “Every practice, we just get a little bit better. Every game, every at-bat, and it just all comes together and you get a game like this where everybody’s just on their game and having a great time out here.”
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