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Making a lot of noise with their bats, T-Birds head to 2A state softball tournament

Tumwater’s Sawyer Vessey (6) swings at a pitch in the fifth inning. Yelm played Tumwater in a softball game at Husky Softball Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, April 15, 2017.
Tumwater’s Sawyer Vessey (6) swings at a pitch in the fifth inning. Yelm played Tumwater in a softball game at Husky Softball Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, April 15, 2017. jbessex@gateline.com

Tumwater High School’s softball field is a loud place during midweek batting practice.

Players shagging balls crowd the power alleys – some even stationed on the far side of the outfield fence – whooping and chattering as hitter after hitter pounds for sound, driving balls to the deepest parts of the yard.

Welcome to the home of a team that averaged nearly 11 runs per game during its Class 2A Evergreen Conference season, compiling a team batting average of .435 and walloping 15 home runs.

Tumwater meets Sehome at noon Friday at Carlon Park in Selah to open the Class 2A state tournament.

“We’re the strongest we’ve ever been. We’re at our peak for talent and we’re very close to each other,” said senior shortstop Myiah Seaton, one of the loudest T-Bird hitters with a .490 batting average, 15 runs batted in and eight extra-base hits. She’s also stolen 10 bases.

Senior Katie Cunningham provides the power, hitting eight home runs and driving in 25 runs on her way to a .491 batting average and 1.038 slugging percentage.

“Teams fear Katie. She’s intimidating. They don’t want to throw to her,” said second-year coach Ashley Andrews, who played for the T-Birds’ 2006 state championship team before going on to a stellar career at the University of Tennessee.

“She’s absolutely consistent. I know what she’s bringing every time she steps on the field and oh-by-the-way she can hit a 300-foot home run.”

Teams may not want to pitch to the 5-foot-10 Cunningham in the third slot, but they kind of have to: Following her is clean-up hitter Nikole Schock, who hit .525 and drove in 15 runs. And Tumwater is so loaded at the plate, their leading hitter for average, center fielder Ellaney Jelcick at .561 with a .640 on base percentage and eight steals, batted ninth.

Andrews, who spent time on the coaching staff at the University of Washington before taking over at her prep alma mater, sees adaptability as the key to her team’s potent offense.

“If we’re not on a pitcher the first time through the lineup we’ll adjust, we’ll figure her out,” she said. “The girls communicate to each other coming into the dugout and they’ll adjust, either in the box or mentally. That’s hard for high school girls. It’s special that this team can do that.”

Another factor that drives the T-Birds is competitive fire. Andrews sees a lot of herself in Seaton.

“Myiah and I are a lot alike in terms of wearing our competitiveness on our sleeves. A lot of people struggle with that,” Andrews said. “’Oh my gosh, they’re so competitive, what the heck?’ But I appreciate that about Myiah. She wants to win, she doesn’t care how it gets done.”

Cunningham and Seaton claim to be “the same person” when it comes to their love for their sport.

“When we lose, we are not happy about it,” Cunningham said. “We share a passion for the game. Myiah’s one of the most go-get-it players I’ve ever seen.”

“Katie never stops,” said Seaton, who will play at Central Washington University next season. “You can see in her eyes that this is her passion, what she loves to do.”

Though Tumwater (18-5) rolled to a first place tie in the 2A EvCo with W.F. West, the T-Birds knew the postseason would be tougher. They beat Hockinson and R.A. Long in District 4 play, but were uncharacteristically shutout by Woodland, 4-0.

“You go to postseason and all the teams are there for a reason. They’ve got better hitting, better pitching, better defense,” said Andrews. “We’re not going to score 11 runs a game in the postseason. That shouldn’t happen in the postseason. Our girls learned that.”

Said Seaton, “Districts was kind of a wake-up call for us. It showed us the type of competition that’s in our future and what we have to do for state.”

For all Tumwater’s potent offense, Andrews sees her pitching rotation of juniors Jaidyn Carpenter and Savannah Owen as crucial to a strong finish in the state tournament.

“You have to have elite pitching when you get to the state level, getting fly ball outs, ground ball outs. If you can stay tough on the mound, you can do well,” she said.

With seven seniors – Seaton, Cunningham, Schock, Lydia Glasgo, Sawyer Vessey, Jelcick and Trinity Berrow – Tumwater wants to do more than show up in Selah.

“Coach always tells us we get to control our destiny, we get to control what happens next. So going into state, we want to place,” said Cunningham, bound for Bellevue Community College next season. “We’re going to go into every game stepping over the chalk and playing our hearts out.”

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