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Chloe Wheeler smacked four hits Friday, as Coupeville High School softball battled through three state playoff games. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

It was a whirlwind day and a half.

Making it back to the state tournament for the first time in five years, and only the third time in the 41-year history of the program, the Coupeville High School softball team delivered a knockout punch of excitement and achievement.

Whether singing John Denver songs in the dugout during a brief lightning delay, or utterly destroying one of the tourney’s biggest powerhouses with a hail of hits, the Wolves will be remembered by rival fans, players, and coaches.

It might not have won a state title — District 4’s juggernaut of Castle Rock, Montesano, Elma, and Forks claimed all four semifinals slots — but Coupeville did garner its first state tourney win since 2002, and came agonizingly close to nabbing a second victory, which would have brought the Wolves back to the diamond Saturday morning.

As they exited the Columbia Playfield in Richland at a hair before 8 PM Friday, 13 exhausted, happy, proud, tear-stained, eternally strong young women walked back to their bus as one.

Like any team, there are little pockets of players who hang together, but between the lines, they found that magical groove where it didn’t matter who was a raw freshman or who was a seasoned veteran, who was a power hitter, or who was a role player.

It speaks well for what the team’s three seniors — Nicole Laxton, Veronica Crownover, and Sarah Wright — accomplished, leading their group back to the big dance when other very-talented Wolves haven’t been able to do the same.

And it speaks well for the future, a time when already-established stars such as Scout Smith, Emma Mathusek, and Chelsea Prescott, will be asked to mesh with the next gen stars ready to make the jump from little league to high school.

Getting back to state was step one. Check it off.

Proving they could compete against the best in the state was step two. Check it off.

Step three will be making the trip East on a more regular basis, and it’s a goal CHS coach Kevin McGranahan and his support staff are committed to making a reality.

Doubt them at your own peril.

The 2019 edition of the Wolf softball program won a second-straight league title (while doing it in a tougher conference this time around), played in the district title game, then was the last District 1 team standing at the state tourney.

Coupeville arrived in Richland Thursday, players stepping off the bus, and family and various hanger-ons oozing out of cars, to be hit by temps in the high 80’s.

Coming from the cool breezes of Whidbey, it was a stark reminder of why we don’t choose to live in the arid, wide-open spaces where the sun tickles rows and rows of apples every day.

And then it dropped like 20 degrees overnight, and Friday was cloudy, a wee bit rainy, and like being back home.

The Wolves opened the 16-team, double-elimination tourney with a huge task — try and slow down Montesano, the biggest, baddest, and boldest of them all.

The Bulldogs have been to state 22 straight seasons, won the most 1A state softball titles of anyone during the fast-pitch era, and have a ton of intimidation tricks at their disposal.

So, Coupeville responded in the best way possible, by promptly drilling one of the Montesano coaches with a wayward throw two seconds into warm-ups.

Having watched Wolf sophomore shortstop Chelsea Prescott play multiple sports through middle and high school, I’m 99.79% certain it wasn’t intentional.

But when ball cracked against bone and it sounded like a bullet splattering an over-ripe watermelon, and when that Bulldog coach was still limping hours later, one thing remains clear — everyone will dang sure look twice when Coupeville strolls into their little party.

The game itself was a decidedly one-sided affair, with Montesano rolling to a 16-1 win, as befits the #2 ranked team in 1A going about its business.

Coupeville’s best memories from the affair will come from the top of the fourth inning, the final frame played before the mercy rule brought an end to the beatin’.

McGranahan plucked quiet killer Chloe Wheeler and promising freshman Audrianna Shaw from his bench, gave them at-bats, and it paid off.

At least as much as it could against the reincarnation of the 1927 Yankees.

Shaw earned a free pass, eking out a walk, but it was Wheeler who delivered the big blow, whacking an RBI single to right-center to break up the shutout.

That swing earned the Wolf junior the start in Friday’s second and third games, and Wheeler seized the opportunity, staying as hot as anyone on her team during the all-day affair.

And the rest of Coupeville’s bats returned with a vengeance in act two.

Returning to the field after some down time, the Wolves found themselves in a loser-out rumble with Deer Park.

As in the team which won the District 6/7 title, walloping defending state champ Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) to do so.

As in the team which came completely unglued against Coupeville.

Up 2-1 after two innings, the Stags melted down from there, allowing the Wolves to rack up 13 unanswered runs in a very-satisfying 14-2 romp.

Coupeville went 0-2 at state in 2014, so you have to go back to 2002, when the Wolves went 4-1 on their way to a 3rd place finish, to find a softball win in the year’s biggest tourney.

Only a handful of current CHS players were even alive back then, but that didn’t stop the 2019 Wolves from imitating the sluggers of the past.

Deer Park threw what it thought would be strikes, and the Wolves responded by nearly bending their bats in half, hammering hot shot after even hotter shot.

Five runs came across in the third inning to bust things open, with Mathusek hooking a double just inside the foul line down the right side of the field to ignite the firestorm.

That, and Prescott getting drilled with a pitch, set the table for Wright, who served up a winner with a two-run double to deep center.

The rest of the runs in the frame came home thanks to Deer Park miscues — two bases-loaded walks, including Laxton having a ball bite her for the 775th time this month alone, and a passed ball.

Laxton came back around in the top of the fourth, following her buddy, Crownover, as both seniors lofted RBI singles right over the heads of the Deer Park infielders.

Coupeville made it three straight innings with two runs scored, getting RBI’s from Prescott and Wright in the fifth and again in the sixth.

With Montesano having swung by to watch the finish of the game, the Wolves tossed three more runs on the board in the seventh. And this time, they did it with big base-knocks.

Smith tore the stuffing out of the ball, launching a two-run double to right-center, before Mathusek followed her to the plate and promptly crunched an RBI double to an even deeper part of the field.

Deer Park, which started the day with state title dreams, and ended it with a slow walk back to its bus, cartoon stars exploding around its collective heads, had no answer for Wolf hurler Izzy Wells.

Backed by a rock-solid defense, which included several nice catches from Laxton in left, the fab frosh owned the pitcher’s circle and helped kick her team into a night game.

The opponent was always-dangerous Cle Elum, the stakes were simple – win or go home – and the game played out as an edge-of-your seat thriller that didn’t quite go 100% Coupeville’s way.

The Wolves led early, and they led late, but they didn’t lead last, falling 8-6 and finishing their season at 15-10.

Cle Elum survives to return Saturday for a match-up with Warden, two wins away from playing in the 3rd/4th place game.

The game belonged to the Wolves early, as they jumped on the Warriors for a quick three runs in the top of the first.

A walk to Smith, yet another double for the absolutely scorchin’ Mathusek, and RBI’s for Prescott, Wright, and Wheeler, staked Wells to a lead, and she held it until the third inning.

Along the way, Prescott made a sensational dig on a madly-skidding ball in the hole at short, while Smith speared a liner headed for extra-base territory, then scrambled towards her own dugout, chasing down a high, arcing foul ball to end an inning.

Cle Elum muffled Coupeville’s offense for a bit, though, dodging a Coral Caveness single, while using a two-run single to knot things at 3-3, then a two-run home run from Katelyn Nass in the fourth to snatch the lead away at 5-3.

The Wolves weren’t going down easily, however, juicing the bags in the top of the fifth on singles from Mathusek, Prescott (after 10,001 foul balls), and Mollie Bailey.

Finding time to craft one more career highlight before departing the diamond, Crownover crunched a game-tying two-run single to straight-away center, thrilling older brother Nick, who took a break from college to catch the action.

When Wheeler (yep, her again, having a career day) smacked a single to re-load the bases with just one out, things looked peachy for the Wolves.

That is, until Cle Elum escaped with its dignity, and the tie score, intact.

But, every counter move deserves a counter-counter move, and Coupeville pushed the go-ahead run across in the sixth on a Wright ground-out which sent Smith scrambling home.

Six outs away from Saturday, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Give Cle Elum credit, cause they delivered when it mattered most, stringing together several seeing-eye hits in the bottom of the sixth to net the three runs necessary to turn a 6-5 deficit into an 8-6 lead.

Coupeville’s state championships run, its best in almost two decades, ended with a 1-2-3 top of the seventh, capped by a sharply-hit liner which unfortunately went straight into a mitt.

It was an ending, and most sports endings are not of the totally happy variety, but pride should win out over sorrow.

Coupeville rapped out 29 hits across the three games (at least by my unofficial scribblings), with 9 of 13 players collecting at least one base-knock, and 11 of 13 Wolves reaching base.

Mathusek paced the squad with six hits, including three doubles, with Wright (5), Wheeler (4), Smith (4), Crownover (3), Prescott (3), Bailey (2), Laxton (1), and Caveness (1) all collecting base-knocks.

Wells, Shaw, and Mackenzie Davis all saw action, while Marenna Rebischke-Smith made her varsity debut as a pinch-runner.

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Coupeville’s sluggin’ sophomore shortstop Chelsea Prescott is heading to Eastern Washington for the 1A softball state championships. (Karen Carlson photo)

This is going to be a new experience.

The bracket for the state softball tournament was released Sunday, and Coupeville High School gets to face teams it has no prior history with.

The Wolves, who are headed back to the big dance for the first time since 2014, and the third time in the CHS softball program’s 41-year existence, get a blockbuster game to kick things off.

Coupeville, the #2 seed from District 1, opens against Montesano, the #2 seed from District 4.

The Bulldogs, who hail from the Evergreen League, have won four state softball titles (2008, 2009, 2015, 2017), the most of any 1A school during the fast-pitch era, which kicked off in 2002.

The opening game goes down at 10 AM Friday, Mar. 24 in Richland.

Win or lose, Coupeville plays a second time the same day, against either Deer Park, the #1 seed from District 6/7, or College Place, the #4 seed from District 5.

If the Wolves beat Montesano, its second game is at 4 PM. Lose to the Bulldogs and they return to the field at 2 PM.

Win both games and Coupeville is in the state semifinals; lose both games and the season is done.

Split the two games, and the Wolves get a third game Friday at 6 PM.

Win twice Friday, while moving in either direction in the bracket, and CHS plays anywhere from 1-3 games Saturday.

 

To see the bracket, pop over to:

http://www.nscathletics.com/tournament.php?tournament_id=2997&sport=15

 

This year’s tourney features nine teams returning from 2018’s throw-down, including defending state champ Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls).

Along with the champs, Lynden Christian, Mount Baker, Montesano, Castle Rock, Warden, Cle Elum, Deer Park, and Elma — last year’s runner-up — are back.

Busting through in 2019 are Coupeville, Seattle Christian, Forks, Royal, College Place, Freeman, and Colville.

That group replaces Chewelah, Kiona-Benton, South Whidbey, Connell, Cascade, Bellevue Christian, and Klahowya, who couldn’t replicate their 2018 magic.

 

This year’s 16-team bracket qualified thusly:

 

District 1:

Lynden Christian (12-11)
Coupeville (14-8)
Mount Baker (17-7)

 

District 3:

Seattle Christian (15-2)

 

District 4:

Castle Rock (17-5)
Montesano (17-5)
Elma (21-2)
Forks (11-10)

 

District 5:

Warden (21-2)
Royal (7-12)
Cle Elum (10-7)
College Place (16-7)

 

Districts 6/7:

Deer Park (15-7)
Lakeside (9 Mile Falls) (15-5)
Colville (15-6)
Freeman (15-7)

 

Coupeville softball’s previous state history:

 

2002 (3rd place):

beat Cle Elum 8-0
beat Royal 3-2
lost to Adna 4-0
beat Okanogan 6-1
beat Napavine 11-6

 

2014 (no place):

lost to Warden 8-1
lost to Okanogan 5-2

 

Info to know on Coupeville’s first and prospective second-round foes: 

 

College Place:

Season record: 16-7

League finish: #2 in SCAC East

Run differential: 237-124

Seniors: (2) – Jenna Mendoza, Paris Orchard

Student body count: 149.13 (2B school which opts up to 1A for sports)

Coach: Corey Davis

Mascot: Hawks

History at state championships: 2nd appearance; 1-2 record

 

Deer Park:

Season record: 15-7

League finish: #2 in Northeast League

Run differential: 175-132

Seniors: (3) – Sharon Estes, Cassidy Henderson, Lily Pierce

Student body count: 441.25

Coach: Dana Shaw

Mascot: Stags

History at state championships: 8th appearance; 6-14 record

 

Montesano:

Season record: 17-5

League finish: Tied for #1 Evergreen League

Run differential: 222-105

Seniors: (4) – Matti Ekerson, Katie Granstrom, Lexi Lovell, Lindsay Pace

Student body count: 325.38

Coach: Pat Pace

Mascot: Bulldogs

History at state championships: 22nd appearance; 67-18 record

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