By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
FORKS — Rian Peters and the Forks softball team felt the love this postseason as the Spartans made school history — making the state tournament for the first time and coming home with a fourth-place trophy.
“I can’t tell you how many texts we got, the amount of people that let us know they were behind us,” Peters said.
“The send off with all the ambulances, police cars and fire trucks, and the number of people who came to state wearing T-shirts with our roster on it. And we knew everybody that couldn’t make it had the games up on Facebook Live. We felt supported all the way across the state. It made you almost tear up.”
Peters was a major factor in Forks’ success — at the plate where she transitioned into the Spartans’ leadoff hitter to maximize her at-bats and scoring opportunities for the team and handling Forks’ pitching staff behind the dish at catcher where Peters’ rifle of an arm provided disincentive for opposition baserunners bent on stealing bases.
“From a pure athletic standpoint, running, hitting, throwing, she’s our best athlete,” Spartans coach Junior Dean said.
And Peters is the 2019 All-Peninsula Softball MVP as selected by area coaches and the sports staff of the Peninsula Daily News.
Peters hit .453 on the season, earning first-team All-Evergreen League honors and was 11 for 20 at state (.550), raising her game against top competition.
Peters and Forks are used to playing top competition. This year, the Spartans finished fourth both in Evergreen League play and at the district tournament — with Evergreen League foe Elma (state champs); district foe Castle Rock (runner-up), Forks (fourth) and Evergreen rival Montesano (fifth) taking four of the top five finishes at state.
Dean said he can depend on Peters — athletically, academically where she also excels with a GPA near 4.0 and as an example to others.
“For me as a coach what makes her so special, it doesn’t matter what we are doing, I can count on her that she will give 100 percent,” Dean said.
“She will hustle and play hard time after time and the other girls see that and respond to it. Rian doesn’t tell the others, ‘Hey, keep up with me,’ it’s that they see she’s trying so hard the other kids don’t want to be the ones seen as not hustling and not working hard.
“I’d love 20 more just like her.”
Dean said he wants his players to treat each other as equals with little preference given to upperclassmen.
“I see some other sports where they make the freshmen pick up the equipment, or do this or that,” Dean said. “We aren’t playing the privilege game here. “If you are all on the same team, you are all the same. Rian’s always been one of those girls to help break down the net, to pick up balls. It’s the little stuff that’s what stands out the most, her effort at practice.”
Peters moved into the top spot in the Spartans’ batting order just after spring break in April.
“It definitely gave me more at bats and that helped me because the more pitches you see the better you can do behind the plate,” Peters said. “I think it helped my batting average and I was more of an RBI hitter than a home-run hitter.”
And she saw her share of intentional walks with eventual state champion Elma giving her a free base each time they met this season.
Peters said that treatment was both frustrating and complimentary.
“A little bit of both for sure,” Peters said. “I want to hit the ball, but it’s a bit of a compliment because they are saying they don’t want me to hit against them and hurt them worse.”
Peters’ presence was valued by Forks’ pitchers Britney Dean and Chloe Leverington.
“I always feel we have a good chance of beating anybody we play because we don’t give up too many runs,” Junior Dean said.
“Having somebody like Rian with her arm made our pitchers more comfortable and relaxed because they knew if they allowed a baserunner they weren’t going anywhere on a steal. It was going to take a team two or three singles or an extra-base hit to score. We weren’t giving up anything easily.
Breaking through at the district tournament and clinching the state spot was sweet, Peters said.
“It was with the same group of girls that have been playing together since we were eight or nine, and knowing we were making history in our small town it really felt like all the hard work paid off,” Peters said.
Peters jammed the thumb on her catching hand during the district tournament. She did hit a home run soon after the injury, but it did have an impact.
“When I would catch you are supposed to frame the ball [in the strike zone] and I couldn’t give my pitchers as many strikes, but I didn’t want them to quit throwing as hard as they could,” Peters said.
“I couldn’t get the ball off the bat as quickly, either.”
Dean said Peters’ focus changed to base hits and ground balls and hard-hit line drives. “We wanted to make it a little easier on her hands,” Dean said.
Before state, Peters was given a brace from another of her softball coaches that kept things stabilized when catching.
“It didn’t really hit me how crazy it was that we got to state until we got there and started beating these teams. Honestly, state made me fall in love with the game all over again.”
With Britney Dean graduated, it’s likely that Jayden Olson, Peters’ best friend and longtime youth softball battery mate, returns to the pitcher’s circle as the young Spartans attempt to make even more history — a return to the state tournament.
“I’m definitely excited,” Peters said. “That’s what we’ve been doing since we were 10 and she’s my best friend.”
2019 All-Peninsula Softball Team
MVP: Rian Peters, jr., Forks: Hit .453 and was a first-team All-Evergreen League selection for the fourth-place in Class 1A-Spartans.
C: Zoe Smithson, fr., Port Angeles: Second-team All-Olympic Leaguer hit .421 with three home runs, nine doubles and 20 RBIs for Riders.
P: Britney Dean, sr., Forks: First-team All-Evergreen League selection. Dean exceled in the postseason with two shutout wins in the district tournament, including a no-hitter. She struck out a total of 23 batters, while giving up only two hits. At state, Dean fired a four-hit shutout and a one-hitter to put Spartans in state semifinals.
P: Leeann Raney, fr., Sequim: Second-team All-Olympic League selection as an outfielder also performed well in the circle for Wolves. Won three district games on the mound, including a complete-game four-hitter against top seeded Eatonville.
P: Hope O’Connor: sr., Port Angeles: Second-team All-Olympic League infielder also performed well in the circle for Riders. Went 4-1 with 3.11 ERA, striking out 38 and walking 10 in 42.2 innings pitched. Hit .453 with two home runs, eight doubles, 27 RBIs and 30 runs.
1B: Latisha Robideau, sr., Sequim: Second-team All-Olympic Leaguer.
2B: Isabelle Dennis: First-team All-Olympic League infielder for the Wolves.
SS: Jada Cargo, so., Port Angeles: Hit .545 with 13 doubles, four triples, a home run and 32 RBIs for Riders. Also scored 31 runs and struck out just five times. First-team All-Olympic League infield pick.
3B: Christy Grubb, fr., Sequim: Second-team All-Olympic League selection as a utility player for Sequim.
OF: Madi Roening, jr., Port Angeles: Led Riders in all major offensive categories with .556 batting average, nine home runs, 39 RBIs, 33 runs and a slugging percentage of 1.125. Played multiple positions and made some great grabs defensively as an outfielder. First-team All-Olympic League outfielder.
OF: Jayla Julmist, so., Sequim: Second-team All-Olympic League selection.
OF: Olivia Nevaril, jr., Port Angeles: Hit .413 with three home runs, 26 RBIs and 19 runs for Riders.
Utility: Jayden Olson, jr., Forks: First-team All-Evergreen League selection as a second baseman for the Spartans.
Honorable Mention: Chloe Leverington, so., Forks; Julia Lausche, sr., Forks; Bobbi Sparks, sr., Sequim; Ella Holland, jr., Port Angeles; Kiana Watson-Charles, jr., Port Angeles; Madison Coffey, jr., Quilcene; Natalie Coffey, fr., Quilcene; Lily Fili, fr., Sequim; Kiana Robideau, so., Sequim;