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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Signature event: Greater Spokane League goes under the lights at Merkel for slowpitch softball showcase

There aren’t many sports where five league games can be played simultaneously at the same location. Softball is one of those sports, as long as you have access to such a venue.

It adds to the cool factor if said venue has lights.

Fortunately for the Greater Spokane League, one of those venues exists in Spokane – Merkel Sports Complex. This year, for the first time, the league took advantage of it.

On Tuesday, every slowpitch softball team from the GSL convened at Merkel for a series of rivalry games under the lights. Players, coaches, administrators and fans congregated as well to make it an exciting evening of competition and fellowship.

It might not have the stakes of a district or state tournament, but the excitement and enthusiasm rivaled that atmosphere.

University and Central Valley have played a traditional night game since 2011, the “Fall Ball Brawl,” with the schools renting portable lights and generators to illuminate the softball field. Mt. Spokane and Mead tried the idea last year at Merkel for their “Battle of the Bats” to great success.

So when a group of coaches approached slowpitch coordinator Grady Emmerson, the athletic director at Ridgeline, he said, “Well, let’s find a way to make this work.”

“I think the Fall Ball Brawl with CV and U-Hi was kind of the initial signature slowpitch event,” Mt. Spokane coach Carl Adams said. “And then Mead-Mt. Spokane came on board with the Battle of the Bats. We were just hoping everybody gets the chance to have something that’s special and a fun deal for the kids.”

Once Merkel was on board, all that was left was to pick a date and circle it on everyone’s calendar.

“We’re super excited for all the teams in Spokane that we get to move the spotlight over to our sport for one night up here at Merkel,” U-Hi coach Matt Connor said.

The Titans took things a step further and had special shirts made up in recognition of September being suicide prevention and awareness month.

“The girls did that on their own,” Connor said. “They were excited to make the game more than just a game tonight and to promote a good message they thought was valuable.”

Ferris coach Linda Bushinski has coached Ferris since the GSL brought fall slowpitch back in 2005.

“It’s absolutely awesome,” she said. “Just to have everybody together, get the girls to experience this field, the lights, everything. It’s just a cool event.”

Bushinski hopes the event puts a spotlight on the other rivalry games and helps promote the sport.

“I sure hope it does,” she said. “And I hope we continue to do this. I hope we do this for fastpitch in the spring as well.”

She said the entire program has been excited about it.

“The parents, the girls, the coaches, everybody.”

Bushinski couldn’t have imagined in 2005 this type of event for slowpitch, and she was thankful for the coaches and Emmerson who worked out all the details.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Oh, no. I mean, it was just the five city schools. It was super mellow in the beginning and to have it grow to this, you know, it’s absolute amazing.”

Because there are 13 teams in the league and five fields available, there were two early games – Ridgeline took on East Valley while Shadle Park faced Cheney.

“It makes it feel like a big thing,” Ridgeline’s Charley Palm said. “It’s great to see other girls playing, great to see other coaches and have old coaches come to see you. So it’s a really great event.”

“I’ve never played under the lights, so it was fun,” Cheney senior Tavia Cailing said. “It was very exciting. It was very energetic, I think, with my team. We kept up the energy so it was fun to play.”

Shadle stuck around for a second game against rival North Central, while Ferris took on Lewis and Clark and Rogers played Gonzaga Prep – in addition to the Brawl and the Bats games.

“It’s absolutely kicked (the rivalry games) up a notch,” Mead coach Tiffany Casedy said. “I’m so happy that we can do this for the league. We know how fun it is to have these games at night – it’s just a different atmosphere. We’re really excited everyone in the GSL can experience it.”

“In the four years that I’ve been playing for North Central we haven’t had an opportunity like this so I’m super grateful,” NC senior Mia Sebesta said. “This is insane. I didn’t think that there would be this many people here nor did I think that there would be this many schools so this is crazy.”

“It’s awesome being able to play under the lights like this,” Lewis and Clark senior Ella Branson said. “It’s something that a lot of these girls have never been able to experience before. So I think that being able to do this, especially against our rivals, and in some of these girls’ senior season is a really special thing.”

The only drawback, Branson said, was not being able to walk around to see other games going on at the same time.

“All of these other high school teams, we all know these girls. We play these teams all the time. Just being able to look right across the way and see their their games as well, I think that that’s really special.”