The outcome was far from certain.
The Falcons were one out from a state berth, up 2-1 over Mount Baker in the final inning of the loser-out round of the class 1A District 1 softball tournament on May 20 at Janicki Fields. All they needed to do was hold them and ignore the fact that one mishap could send it all crashing down.
The Falcons looked to their star pitcher, Cascade Conference defensive player junior Mackenzee Collins, to seal the deal. They held their breath when the Mountaineers player at bat managed to strike the ball on her next pitch, but the winning catch was made by freshman Makenna Morley to punch their ticket to state.
It’s the second time in three years South Whidbey (12-11, 8-7 in the Cascade Conference) is state-bound.
Not long after the game, the players started talking with each other about a “presence” they had felt prior and during the final play. Junior Bella Northup said she could hear the late Tim Collins’ voice in her head, the former softball coach who died in August 2015. His daughter Mackenzee felt his presence too.
“Even though he’s not here, he’s such a huge part of our team,” Mackenzee Collins said. “It’s incredible.”
“It’s all for Tim…he means so much to this team,” senior Kacie Hanson added.
The Falcons played La Center in the opening round of the state championships on Friday morning. Results were not available at press time.
Head coach Alexandra Goheen, who was named Cascade Conference co-coach of the year, said she didn’t have a doubt in her mind that the Falcons would reach state.
“The girls deserved it,” Goheen said. “They’ve been working really hard at practice and they have been doing great this season.”
Goheen’s prediction appeared to be right on the mark based off the Falcons’ first round game against Mount Baker. They beat the Mountaineers 3-0 while committing zero errors; the Mountaineers had four. Collins, who threw 291 strikeouts in the regular season, was her usual dominant self with 16 strikeouts. She also hit three of the Falcons’ six total hits. Senior Leah Merrow went 2-for-3 and scored two runs. Morley scored the Falcons’ third run.
The win was a confidence boost for the Falcons, but it also meant they didn’t have to risk losing in the consolation bracket; Mount Baker had to battle back through three games just to set up its ultimately fruitless rematch with the Falcons.
The Falcons’ first round win advanced them to the district championship match against Lynden Christian. After a scoreless first inning, the Falcons committed two defensive errors in the top of the second inning that led to two unearned runs and an early lead for Lynden Christian. The Falcons scored once in the bottom of the inning and once more in the third inning to tie the game. But, more errors by the Falcons in the sixth inning led to three more runs for the Lyncs. It spelled out South Whidbey’s eventual 6-3 loss.
The Falcons attributed the errors to their biggest weak spot — their defense against the bunt. Senior Aria Ludtke said when a team has a strong pitcher, teams tend to bunt more. Improving their defense against the bunt was a primary focus in practice this week, players said.
While sometimes Collins’ prowess can lead to teams exploiting their weak spot, the players believe they have an advantage over their opponents. Hanson said Collins’ skills takes some pressure off the team because they know she is dependable. Senior Leah Merrow echoed Hanson’s sentiments.
“She’s just the leader out there,” senior Leah Merrow said. “So, we have to back her up. We have a huge responsibility, but we also don’t depend on her. We just have so much faith in her.”
The Falcons entered the state tournament with a different mindset than they did in 2015. South Whidbey led the Cascade Conference in wins midway through the season and eventually finished third behind Cedarcrest and Granite Falls. Because of their success this spring, the Falcons are holding themselves to a far higher standard.