SPORTS: Port Angeles rises to 3A softball tournament

PORT ANGELES — It took one day for first-year coach Buddy Bear to change the culture of Port Angeles softball.

“On the first day I asked the kids, ‘What do you think it takes to get to state?’ ” Bear said by cell phone while seated with the team on the school bus that was taking them to the state tournament Thursday afternoon.

It was an important first meeting for the2009 Roughriders, who had never been to state in fastpitch competition, but made state a few times over the years in slowpitch.

“You have to step it up, you have to have the bar raised,” Bear said. “Getting to state was an attainable goal.”

It didn’t take long for the players to buy into it.

“We have been playing all these years, really, just playing to be playing,” senior right fielder Sonja Elofson said.

“Now we’re playing to win.”

For three years the Riders have made it to the Class 3A district tournament, but just making it to district was a major accomplishment to the program, Elofson said.

“But we got into a mentality that we would not just settle for district this year,” she added.

Already time for next step

Now that he’s got the team to state, Bear doesn’t want to wait before taking the next step.

“Let’s not be satisfied just getting to state,” he told the team when they had gathered for practice Wednesday on their home field at Dry Creek Elementary School.

“Let’s not make a goal of winning the state championship,” he said on a day of bright sunshine and cool wind.

That goal is a little too lofty, he said.

“But Let’s take the next step and win our first state game,” he said. “And if by winning that first game we end up winning the state championship, then that’s OK. But let’s at least get that first state win.”

Elofson, for one, believes the Riders (16-7) have a shot at doing well at state, which starts today and ends Saturday at SERA (South End Recreation Area) Fields in Tacoma.

“We don’t know what to expect from state but we plan to come out with our best game,” she said.

“I think we are going to have a good tournament because we have good coaches and we have good players.”

Senior catcher Molly Ward is on the same page as her outfield teammate.

“We definitely have the potential, and we have what it takes to get the job done at state, and to really have fun, too,” Ward said.

Bear agrees with the two standout players.

“This is our first time at state but we have players who have tournament experience.”

Several Riders have played for Port Angeles summer Babe Ruth softball teams that have played in youth World Series tourneys the past few years.

Ward and Elofson both have been in two World Series tournaments while Stacy Webb, the sophomore starting pitcher, has been to the Big Show once.

Taking step up

After being at the district championships three consecutive years, the Riders finally broke through by going 2-2 and earning a state berth last weekend at SERA Fields.

One of the reasons Port Angeles is going to state is because of Webb’s arm.

She threw all four games at district, including the state-deciding game, a 1-0 three-hit shutout of Mount Rainier.

A softball pitcher always carries a lot of responsibility for her team’s success.

“Definitely, the team does rely on [Webb] a lot,” Ward, the catcher, said.

Webb has an arsenal of four pitches, including fastball, change-up, drop and rise.

Webb said she feels most confident about her fastball.

At district, however, the drop was working well, Ward said.

“But I like the rise; I call the rise all the time,” Ward said. “The rise tends to throw people off, especially when they’re at the back of the box.”

To a batter, the rise looks like a perfect pitch but at the last moment, just when the batter starts to swing, it rises, according to Ward.

“They swing low at a high ball, and it makes them feel foolish,” Ward said.

Webb saved the day in the second game of the tournament against Mount Rainier.

The Riders needed a win to advance to state.

Mount Rainier had two outs with two on in the seventh inning of the 1-0 game.

“The last batter struck out on a drop,” Ward said. “The drop was working.”

A drop is just the opposite of the rise. When it gets to the plate, the bottom falls out of it and the batter is swinging too high.

It was good to break through with a state berth after three years of knocking on the state door at the district tourney, Ward said.

“It feels good going to state after three years at district,” she said.

Webb added, “All our hard work paid off.”

Team chemistry

The Riders, whether they’re out in the field or on the bench, are constantly supporting each other, Ward and Webb both said.

“Right now this is one of the better teams I have had in my 30 years of coaching for team chemistry and supporting each other,” Bear said.

Bear, who has also coached baseball (for 30 years), football and even lacrosse, teaches his players to excel in at least one thing.

“I teach them to be good at something,” he said. “Whether it’s carrying bats or cheering your teammates on, if you’re good at it, it helps the team.”

The Riders seem to take their role of cheerleaders seriously.

“If everyone on the bench reaches up on the fence and cheers for those in the field, it makes a difference,” Ward said.

Prairie was the only team to out-cheer the Riders this year, according to Elofson.

“It seems like everyone on the bench keeps cheering for those out in the field,” she said.

“It’s inspiring. It’s nice to know that somebody is there for you.”

Port Angeles opens state play at 11 a.m. today on the Red Field at SERA against Shadle Park.

“Shadle Park is a tough team, but we’re a tough team, too,” Bear said.

“It all comes down to attitude and how much we want to play,” Ward said.

The Riders are hoping a good attitude and togetherness will help them take their next step up and a first win at state this weekend.

________

Sports Editor Brad ­LaBrie can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at [email protected]

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