A year ago, everything was set up for a storybook finish.
Yelm High School was undefeated after 28 games, with a chance to win its second-ever state softball championship in front of a huge crowd of supporters at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey.
Instead, the fairy tale had an unhappy ending.
Tornados pitcher Drea Schwaier broke her hand running to first base in the third inning and Redmond held off Yelm to win, 9-5. Schwaier had surgery and missed summer softball.
Guess who the Tornados meet at 9 a.m. Friday to open this season’s Class 3A state tournament at the RAC?
“It’s pretty weird to be playing Redmond first,” Schwaier said. “We’re pumped.”
Schwaier, who is 12-1 with a 1.01 earned run average this year, doesn’t lament her injury.
“I’m stronger because of it, physically and mentally,” she said.
With a hand reinforced by a metal plate and two screws, “Some people say I’m bionic now.”
According to coach Lindsay Walton, the Tornados (25-2) are something of different team this season, though the results have been consistent as they make a fourth straight appearance at state.
“We’ve got a little more power this year,” she said. “Last year, we were faster. We could do a little more of the short game.”
The numbers bear that out. Yelm has a team batting average of .385 and a team slugging percentage of .527.
Four players head into state with .400 batting averages: Taelyn Cutler (.453 with nine home runs and 38 RBI), Schwaier (.438), Jaeden Ells (.432) and Hailey Brown (.405).
No regular in the line-up is hitting lower than .297.
Nonetheless, Walton points to something that didn’t change a lick as the driving force — pitching.
“All three of our top pitchers are back,” she said. “They’ve been workhorses all season.”
In addition to Schwaier, a Whitworth University commit, Walton can call on Cutler, a junior, who is 9-1 with a 0.70 ERA and Brown, a sophomore who is 4-0 in five starts with a 2.51 ERA.
“You hear that Taelyn has the speed and I have the spin,” Schwaier said. “The main thing is we always have each other’s back if one goes in for the other.”
Unlike last season’s team, Yelm doesn’t go into state unblemished.
The Tornados dropped a late-season nonleague slugfest, 13-9, to 4A power Rogers, then fell to upstart Prairie, 6-3, in last weekend’s 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament at the RAC, forcing them to battle through the consolation bracket to claim the No. 5 seed to state.
“It was a wake up call, for sure,” Walton said. “It’s not easy to qualify for state. To go four years in a row is quite an accomplishment.”
“We took it as something we needed,” Schwaier added. “We needed to know we have to fight for it. We’re ready now.”
Playing the final weekend of their careers at the RAC — less than 11 miles from Yelm’s campus — is fitting for Schwaier and four other seniors in Adrianna Viveros, Kayla Dragt, Sage Farrell and Ells. There will be a sea of red in the stands.
“Last year, the school ran a charter bus and it seemed like the whole school was there,” Schwaier said.
The support rewards a decade-long journey for the five seniors, who began playing together on a youth team called Blue Thunder at age eight.
“It’s been amazing,” Schwaier said. “I’m so lucky to be able to play with these girls. We’re a good team because we play for each other. We’re there to have fun. We’re one big family.”