Ideally, softball involves sunshine and freshly mowed green grass.
There’s been precious few of either for W.F. West High School, the defending Class 2A Evergreen Conference champion, this season. Because of near-constant rain, the Bearcats (2-1) have barely practiced outdoors.
But rain and wet grounds can’t limit W.F. West’s exuberance.
“Everybody is chomping at the bit to get back outside,” said coach Mike Keen, who led the Bearcats to a third-place finish in 2A last season, and a state title in 2015. “This group of kids is a 10. They enjoy each others’ company. The highlight of their day is coming to practice, even if it’s just in the gym.”
Senior pitcher Lexie Strasser — the reigning 2A EvCo co-MVP, who compiled a 12-0 regular and district season record along with a 1.46 earned run average — said the team is making the best of the situation and having fun any way they can.
“Everybody works hard,” she said. “But we still have fun. We’re always joking around. Like (Monday), Coach Keen shaved his beard off and everybody was saying he looked like the cartoon Toby the Turtle.”
Last season, Strasser split time on the mound with her pitching co-MVP, junior Ashlee Vadala (10-0, 1.60 ERA). Along with W.F. West junior catcher Kindra Davis, who was named 2A EvCo offensive MVP last season, the Bearcats return seven starters.
W.F. West won its first 28 games last season before losing, 5-2, to Fife in the state tournament semifinals. The Bearcats would go on to defeat Tumwater, 6-4, and Selah, 12-7, to place third.
After a season-opening loss to Yelm on March 14 this year, W.F. West rallied with two wins over Kelso and Olympia.
“It’s a nice luxury to have,” Keen said. “Those kids have all played together at least two years and had success. Our biggest challenge is depth — our roster is kind of in flux. We’ve got some good freshmen, but we haven’t seen them on the field much.”
Third baseman Kassidy Grandorff, shortstop Jessica McKay and outfielders Tessa Wollan and Roni Braun all graduated, leaving a core of nine returning players and one standout freshman, Paetynn Lopez, on the current varsity roster.
“The usual suspects from last year look good so far,” Keen said, naming Strasser, Vadala, Davis, shortstop Olivia Dean, and second baseman Kyndra Haller.
Davis led the team with a .571 batting average and hit 11 home runs — tied with Braun for the team lead — to post an astonishing 1.195 slugging percentage. Dean hit .493 and Haller hit .452.
But in the middle, literally and figuratively, is Strasser, who has signed to play college softball at Central Washington University.
“She’s a tough kid. She doesn’t like to lose,” Keen said. “When our team throws the ball around at the start of an inning and meets in the middle, they know who’s in charge.”
“I’ve always been a natural born leader,” said Strasser, who is 6-foot-2 and also helped the Bearcats basketball team to a third-place finish at the state tournament in Yakima earlier this month.
“I’m the pitcher, I’m at the center of everything at all times. I (try) to help everybody, give them what they need to stay motivated.”
Despite her height, and her participation in hoops and volleyball at W.F. West, there’s never been a doubt about Strasser’s favorite sport since she picked it up at age 7.
“I don’t know why, there’s just something about it I really love,” she said. “I like basketball, too, but to be honest there’s a little too much running it in for me.”
Keen expects Strasser’s success to continue at the college level.
“She works hard at her craft,” he said. “Then, there’s the intimidation factor of having a 6-2 pitcher stepping toward you when you’re at the plate.”
Both Keen and Strasser believe she can become even better in college. Central’s head coach Mike Larabee has already made some suggestions to help her mechanics, she said, and eventually adding another four-to-five miles per hour to her fastball is likely.
But first, along with the rest of the Bearcats, Strasser has more immediate goals.
“I’d like to win districts again and I want to win state,” she said.
2017 High School Softball Primer
TEAM TO BEAT
Yelm returns seven starters from last year’s team, which fell one game short of a 4A state placing game in Spokane. In 3A, the Tornados are expected to contend again behind a deadly three-pitcher rotation which includes junior Drea Schwaier (2.55 ERA last year, 103 strikeouts), sophomore Tayelyn Cutler (3.74 ERA, 196 K’s) and freshman Hailey Brown. The Olympian’s 2016 All-Area player of the year, Ally Choate (.559 batting average, .632 on-base percentage) is also back.
4A SPSL — Puyallup
3A SSC — Yelm
2A SPSL Sound — Orting
2A EvCo — W.F. West
1A EvCo — Montesano
2B Central — Adna
MARK THE DATE
Monday, May 8 at 4 p.m.: Gig Harbor at Yelm — The two programs battled for a 4A Narrows League title a year ago, and both advanced to the 4A state tournament in Spokane before reclassifying.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
P/INF Lexie Strasser, W.F. West, sr.: Central Washington signee was also the 2A EvCo pitching co-MVP and an Olympian All-Area selection as a junior. Helped the Bearcats to a third-place finish in 2A.
C/INF Kindra Davis, W.F. West, jr.: Crushed 12 home runs as a sophomore and was the 2A EvCo offensive MVP. Boise State commit hit .544 with 53 RBIs. Was an Olympian All-Area first teamer.
P/INF Drea Schwaier, Yelm, jr.: Whitworth commit struck out 103 batters and had a 2.55 ERA to lead Yelm to a 4A state tournament berth. Was a first team Olympian All-Area and 4A Narrows selection.
OF Ally Choate, Yelm, sr.: The Olympian’s 2016 All-Area player of the year hit .559 and had a .632 on-base percentage. The Seattle U signee was also named to 4A Narrows first team.
P/INF Brooklyn Taylor-Sparks, Timberline, sr.: Decorated pitcher — Olympian All-Area and 4A Narrows first teams — struck out 156 batters last season. Signed with Stanislaus State.
BEST OF THE REST
P Natalie Albaugh, Shelton, so.; INF Hailey Attwood, River Ridge, jr.; P/INF Hailey Brown, Yelm, fr.; Aly Carpenter, Tumwater, jr.; P Tayelyn Cutler, Yelm, so.; INF Olivia Dean, W.F. West, jr.; OF Hailey Doyle Folks, River Ridge, so.; C Raynie Ehret, North Thurston, sr.; OF Brooke Fesenbeck, Olympia, jr.; P/INF Kylee Freese, North Thurston, so.; INF Tera Geimer, North Thurston, jr.; INF Aly Gill, Black Hills, jr.; C Grace Goetsch, River Ridge, so.; C Taylor Gubser, Yelm, so.; C Bailey Haddock, Timberline, so.; INF Delaney Kennedy, Capital, so.; INF Hailey Lasmanis, Olympia, sr.; INF Alix Peffly, Timberline, so.; Madison Pleasant, Tumwater, sr.; P Kassie Simpson, Rainier, so.; INF Peyton Uznanski, Capital, jr.; P/INF Ashlee Vadala, W.F. West, jr.; C/OF Masie Vollendorff, North Thurston, jr.; UTIL Kassi Ward, Black Hills, sr.