Year of the Pitcher: The Chronicle’s 2021 All-Area Softball Team

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What do you do when you’re putting together an all-area team and you have three shutdown pitchers who are also fearsome hitters at the plate? Well, you name all three of them tri-MVPs.

That’s what we’ve done this year for The Chronicle’s 2021 All-Area Softball Team.

W.F. West junior Kamy Dacus, Adna senior Haley Rainey and Pe Ell-Willapa Valley junior Olivia Matlock were so even, statistically and with the eye test, and so dominant in their respective classifications that we couldn’t choose just one or even two to be the MVP.

All three are among the top pitchers in the state, regardless of classification, and would have each vied for a state title had the tournaments gone on this year.

Let’s start with the lone senior: Rainey.

Rainey, was the 2019 State Player of the Year, was recently named the Central 2B League MVP for the second straight year after leading the Pirates to an 18-0 record this season, culminating in a 7-6 win over Forks for the district championship.

The Idaho State signee posted video-game numbers this season, posting an area-low 0.55 ERA with 90 strikeouts, and just four earned runs on 17 hits in 51 innings. She struck out 45% of the 198 batters she faced.

Her strikeout numbers would have been much higher had she not yielded 24 innings in the circle to eighth-grader Ava Simms, who is being prepared to take over for her next season.

“Haley has been our workhorse, throws a lot of innings, hits, plays hard,” Adna coach Bruce Pocklington said. “She’s a big, strong girl, she works on her craft, religiously. She’s throwing somewhere three or four days a week all the time.”

Rainey was also the Pirates’ No. 1 hitter, batting .575 BA, with a team-high 23 hits and five home runs, 21 RBI, 13 runs and 1.150 SLG% in 40 ABs.

“She loves the game and she’s put her heart and soul into the game,” Pocklington said. “Her three sports are softball, softball, softball. A lot of kids get bored with that but she loves it.”

W.F. West’s Kamy Dacus was the definition of a workhorse, throwing all but three innings for a Bearcat team that ran the table, going 16-0 en route to a district championship victory.

Dacus was the 2A Evergreen Conference Pitcher of the Year as a freshman and won it again this year after compiling a 16-0 record with a 0.69 ERA, a 0.64 WHIP, 185 Ks and 10 earned runs on 55 hits and 10 walks in 102 innings. She mowed down 48% of the batters she faced.

She was also dominant at the plate, hitting .500 with a .561 on-base percentage, a team-high six home runs, 29 hits, 28 RBI and eight doubles.

“She always has her eyes set on the prize, and set on what she wants to get out of every day and every game,” W.F. West coach Caty Lieseke said. “She knew her role this year was to come in and be that veteran presence on the field. 

“The number of walks she gave up this season was ridiculously low. Just really provided us the anchor we needed to be successful this season. To turn around and also swing the bat really well, really helps us out.”

Pe Ell-Willapa Valley junior Olivia Matlock terrorized the Pacific 2B League this year and would have caused headaches for opposing teams at the state tournament if it was held.

She led the Titans to a 15-1 record and a district semifinal appearance while posting a 1.08 ERA and fanning 109 batters.

While she caused fits for opposing batters, she was also a headache for opposing pitchers, leading the Titans with a .633 batting average, 31 hits, 33 RBI, five doubles, four triples and an area-best eight home runs, including a 250-foot blast that nearly cleared the covered playshed at Pe Ell High School.

“We are fortunate to have a pitcher that throws during the summertime,” PWV coach Ken Olson said. “It’s huge. She’s a very talented pitcher, and athlete in general. She’s just a big-time player and I’m thankful we have her for another year. As coaches, we get close to kids and this is one of those cases where they’re great young kids, too. Olivia is a blessing to have.”

Now we move on to the rest of the all-area team.

W.F. West

Senior Alisha Anderson came in freshman year with a crazy amount of athleticism and Lieseke wasn’t quite sure where she would fit on the field. She soon became an excellent defender in the outfield, despite missing her entire junior season due to the pandemic.

Even without that extra year of development, she capped off her high school career with a .353 batting average, five home runs, 18 hits, 20 RBI and scored 17 runs.

“It’s really cool to see the success she had this season,” Lieseke said. “To have her step into center field without skipping a beat, without having the experience of being there, she really showed some maturity. It’s the kind of athlete you talk about of kids who put in the time and work and reap the benefits.”

Sophomore Brielle Etter was the steady, consistent mainstay at second base every team hopes for. A top-notch defender, Etter committed zero errors in league play.

Often the No. 2 hitter in the lineup, Etter batted .439 with a .475 OBP, 25 hits, 22 runs, five doubles and two triples.

“She swung a great bat but was willing to bunt when we needed her to and made a lot of chaos happen,” Lieseke said. “She brings a lot more pop than she looks like she’s going to, so teams underestimate what she’s going to bring to the plate. She’s a really good anchor to have.”

Adna

Senior catcher Emma Eko was the ying to Rainey’s yang. Eko was Rainey’s mainstay behind the plate and helped lead a young Pirate infield.

She batted .513 with 19 hits, 24 RBI, five doubles and one dinger.

“Emma is one of the best catchers in the area, if not the best,” Pocklington said. “She blocks the heck out of the ball, throws it well and she’s a very smart defender. She’s great.”

Senior center fielder Keaton Dowell was to the Pirates outfield that Eko was to the infield: the leader. She batted .486 with 18 hits, 19 runs, 12 RBI, five doubles and a team-high five stolen bases.

“Keaton has ran our outfield and is our coach out there,” Pocklington said. “Keaton and Emma have both been dang close to four-year starters.

“I have three leaders: one behind the plate, one in centerfield and one in the circle,” Pocklington said. “A coach couldn’t ask for much more from three girls.”

PWV

Senior Annika Mason was asked to do something she didn’t have much experience in: play shortstop to fill in for the departed Katie Adkins.

The Centralia College signee turned into a wizard defensively, making a couple Sportscenter-worthy plays to help the Titans run the table in league play.

At the plate, she tallied a .542 batting average with 22 RBI, eight doubles, two triples and had an OBP of .540.

“No. 1, she’s a great athlete,” Olson said. “You can coach them up, and if they believe in you, they’ll get better. She made some plays against Elma, a diving catch and a throw-out from her knees. She also hit .542 as well. A line-drive hitter who drove in a lot of runs for us. A good all-around athlete.”

The one challenge Olson had this year was to convince Ava Bush she was a solid softball player. Bush was taking over for former league MVP Britney Patrick at third base. Not an easy task, but she more than excelled and became the Titans’ third-best hitter this year on a team loaded with smashers.

The junior finished with a .541 batting average, seven doubles, two triples, only three strikeouts and an OBP of .630.

“She’s so physically tough and not afraid of anything,” Olson said. “The progress from her first game was off the charts. If you asked the team, they’d say she was the glue that holds us together. She’s an upbeat kid that keeps us very loose.”

Rochester

Junior utility and pitcher Sadie Knutson made her mark for the Warriors during the postseason, helping the team advance to the district championship match against W.F. West.

Knutson struggled with her back foot while pitching during the regular season, getting called for crow-hopping. Instead of letting it get to her, she went home after each game or practice and worked on it. It culminated in her stellar pitching performance in the district semifinals against Greater St. Helens champion Ridgefield.

“Her perseverance and drive to want to get it right, to make those small adjustments we discussed, made a huge impact for the team, taking us to the district championship game,” Rochester coach Tiffany Garcia said.

Knutson batted .333 with 10 runs, 14 hits, nine RBI and one homer as well.

Junior third baseman Callie Crawford was one of the returning leaders to the Warriors and led the team with zero strikeouts in 14 games.

She batted .360 with 12 runs, 18 hits, 13 RBI and one homer.

“Callie is a true competitor, inside and out,” Garcia said. “Callie gives it her all, every at-bat, every ground ball. She refuses to give in. This is a testament to all of her extra time and work she invests in her craft.”

Freshman first baseman/outfielder Staysha Fluetsch made an instant impact for the Warriors, becoming one of the team’s top hitters and heated up as the season went on. She batted .396 with 11 runs, 19 hits, 16 RBI and a team-high four home runs.

“Staysha has brought energy and life to the program,” Garcia said. “Her raw power has helped during clutch at-bats and bringing runners in to tally up our big leads. As a freshman, Staysha will continue to dominate on offense with the way she’s seeing the ball. RHS’ softball program is lucky to have her.”

Tenino

Junior Emily Baxter was not only one of the top pitchers in our coverage area, she was also one of the best in the entire state. The fireballer led the state with 208 strikeouts and three no-hitters to help the Beavers to a 9-8 record and a district tourney appearance.

She finished with a 1.09 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 18 earned runs on 88 hits in 155 innings.

At the plate, she smashed two homers, drove in 12 runs and had seven doubles.

“Emily is one of the hardest-working girls I have ever coached,” Tenino coach Chris Johnson said. “She takes her role on the team very seriously, but still has fun. I have seen the impact of this in the overall attitude of our team.

“When something goes wrong, she does not let it bother her, and I love the shimmy she does with the outfield after every strikeout.”

Morton-White Pass

Senior first baseman and pitcher Chloee Justice was the crushing hitter the Timberwolves’ needed in advancing to the first round of the district playoffs.

Justice decimated opposing pitchers, batting .600 with a .677 OBP, 27 hits, 19 runs, 17 RBI and six doubles.

“Chloee is a very focused and smart ballplayer,” MWP coach Derek Bowen said. “She is very dedicated and determined. No one can outwork her or put in as much time to get better.”

Mossyrock

Leading a Vikings’ team that went 8-3 overall and placed second at the district tourney were sophomore Hailey Brooks and senior Gracie May West.

Brooks crushed six home runs, 16 hits, four triples, scored 35 runs and hit .656.  She was so feared at the plate that district champion Naselle refused to pitch to her.

“Hailey, wow, what can I say?” MWP coach Keith Coleman said. “She is a role model and fun to coach.”

West, the Vikings field general at shortstop, who was also the staff ace, hit an absurd .727 with 16 hits, seven doubles, 30 runs and 25 walks.

“Gracie was the team leader, on and off the field,” Coleman said. “She was fun to coach.”

Centralia

Junior second baseman Ella Orr was the spark plug for the Tigers this season, hitting .426 with an .809 SLG%, 20 hits, nine RBI, 22 runs, six stolen bases, six doubles, three triples and two home runs.

“Ella shows up when the pressure is on,” Centralia coach David Orr said. “Good role model for underclass kids. Ella is never satisfied. She consistently puts in extra time to get better every day. She’s also willing to come in early and stay late to help her teammates in the batting cafe or on the field. She has become a great leader for us.”

Toledo

Leading the Indians this year was junior lefty first baseman Brynn Williams. One of the Indians’ goals this year was to get zero off the scoreboard as soon as possible, and Williams found any way possible to get on base.

She hit a team-high in batting average (.559), hits (19) and runs (18) while tallying a .583 OBP in 34 at-bats.

“Brynn was able to get on base a number of different ways for us this year; drag bunt, slap and swing away, which can sometimes add pressure to your opponent,” Toledo coach Chad Williams said. “She’s a smart baserunner and her teammates did an outstanding job hitting behind her and driving in runs.”

Rainier

Mountaineers junior pitcher Bailey Elwell was the pitcher teams did not want to face. She totalled seven double-digit strikeout games, including a 19-K performance against Stevenson on March 26.

She finished with 121 Ks, 54 earneds runs and 24 walks in 55 innings of work. At the plate, she hit .514 with a .605 OBP, 18 hits, nine doubles, 15 runs, 10 RBI and only three strikeouts.

Elwall led the Mountaineers by example, Rainier coach Kyle Greenwood said, not always by words.

“She thrives under pressure and is a fierce competitor that also knows how to stay relaxed and confident,” Greenwood said. “She never stops pushing her teammates to be both better as a person as well as a player of the game.”

Onalaska

Junior center fielder Hannah James was the Loggers top hitter on a team that advanced to the second round of districts.

James hit .703 with a .787 OBP, 19 hits, seven doubles, three triples, 12 RBI.

“Always coachable, competitive and has begun to step into one of the leadership roles on the team,” Onalaska coach Rich Teitzel said. “A positive attitude toward her teammates; older or younger. A clutch player.”

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