The district tournament for Liberty Bell High School softball came to a quick conclusion on Tuesday (May 10) as the Tonasket Tigers knocked the Mountain Lions out, 7-2.
The loss ended the season for the young Lions with a sixth-place league record of 2-9. The girls’ overall record was 7-11.
The loss was a disappointing conclusion to a season that was filled with highs and lows, yet always about higher expectations from the girls and the coaching staff.
“Last year, we didn’t even know from day to day if we would have enough players to hold a practice or fill out a roster,” head coach Chad Surface said of the COVID-shortened season.
With a robust roster of 23 this year, practice and game rosters were not an issue. Inexperience and youth were, though. With only one senior and not even a handful of juniors, the young squad looked to the youth movement for leadership, and found it in their first-string battery of freshman Cassidy Jones-Mowen and sophomore Maddie Mihalic.
Mihalic was the ace in a two-pitcher rotation that included freshman hurler Bailey Thomson. Jones-Mowen did much of the catching, backed up by eighth grader Kierra (Kiki) Treise.
The lone senior on the team, basketball and volleyball standout Jadyn Mitchell, answered the plea of recruitment from Surface.
“She showed up for the first day of practice saying that she heard we needed players,” recalled Surface. “She had never played before and was willing to give it a try to help the team … She turned out to be solid and we were able to move her around a little.”
Mihalic brought her mom, Kris, along with her into the program, the parent serving as assistant coach. Mihalic arrived in the program with years of experience in both playing and coaching.
The softball program’s future is ripe with optimism. “We want to go a lot farther next year,” said Maddie Mihalic.
Liberty Bell will also have a solid core of returning players in 2023, as Mihalic and Jones-Mowen rattled off names they hope to see back next year: Violet Chrastina, Helaina Remsburg, Heidi DeVlieg, Kiki Treise, Kadyn Clapp and Rio Lott, along with a couple of incoming eighth-graders that look to contribute early.
Both coaches agreed that the fundamentals are still in need of refinement, but that next year they should be able to expand their repertoire in practice to more complicated concepts of softball. “We’re looking toward more teaching of the game,” offered Surface.
Coach Mihalic added, “Teaching the strategies of the game would also be an emphasis next year. Understanding how and why we do certain things.”
Both coaches expressed gratitude to the parents and fans this year. “Jim McMillan doing the announcing was huge this year,” said Mihalic. “He got the girls and the fans pumped up and made the games more exciting with the music and his announcing. And Alisha’s pictures are so appreciated. Parents fixed food for the double-headers and we invited the visiting teams to eat and enjoy the day with us. It was all great.”
After earning a first-round bye in the 2022 District 6 Baseball tournament, Liberty Bell faced the No. 3 seed Okanogan in the second round on a showery Thursday (May 12) afternoon and came away with a thrilling, extra-inning 6-5 victory over the Bulldogs.
The game, originally scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. start, was bumped up to 2:30 p.m. in an attempt to beat a prediction of late afternoon significant rain.
The Bulldogs sent senior right-hander Carson Boesel to the mound and the Mountain Lions countered with freshman Lucien Paz. Okanogan jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Paz walked the first two Bulldog batters, both scoring on a Boesel single to right field. Clean-up hitter Carter Kookenbou reached first base when hit by a pitch and Boesel scored from third on a sacrifice fly to centerfielder Remi Paz before Lucien Paz settled down and got the three outs to close out the Okanogan first. The Mountain Lion hurler then retired the next six batters to hold the Bulldogs at bay, waiting for the Liberty Bell bats to awaken.
The Mountain Lions wasted no time. Sawyer Crandall led off with a base on balls and Noah Holston the same. But Crandall was thrown out attempting to steal third, Holston succumbing to a good throw and tag on the same play trying to advance to second.
In the top of the fourth, Okanogan added two more runs and led 5-2. In the bottom of the fourth, with the skies darkening and rain looking like an inevitability, it came crunch time for the Mountain Lion bats. Boesel, over the first three innings, had faced the minimum nine batters and looked unhittable. But Crandall laced a single into left field and promptly stole second, again. Lucien Paz then sent a shot into left field, sending Crandall to third, eventually scoring on a wild pitch as the rain began and quickly increased in volume and intensity. Paz, after a walk, stole second and advanced to third on that wild pitch, crossing the plate as the seemingly invincible Bulldog thrower walked three straight batters.
Paz sharpened on the mound as the rain subsided and then quit, early in the fifth inning. He shut down the Bulldogs in the fifth and then lightning struck, figuratively, in the bottom of the fifth for Liberty Bell.
Crandall reached first for the third straight time on a one-out single to left. Paz followed with a single and Holston was plunked by relief pitcher Brennan Smith to load the bases. Everybody advanced a base when Alumbaugh legged out an infield hit, scoring Crandall. After Neitlich was issued an RBI base on balls, Remi Paz drilled an RBI fly out to centerfield, tying the game at 5-5.
It only took eight Paz pitches to retire the Bulldogs in order in the top of the sixth inning. Younger brother Remy closed it out with a spectacular diving catch in short centerfield. Freshman pitcher Damon Alumbaugh took over in the seventh for Paz for a three-up, three-down appearance. Likewise, the Mountain Lions went quietly in the seventh, sending the game into the extra frame. Alumbaugh returned to the hill in the eighth, getting bookend strikeouts and benefiting from a ground ball fielder’s choice in between.
In the Mountain Lions’ half of the eighth, Remy Paz led off with an infield hit. Smith hit Grey Patterson on the first pitch, sending the speedy Paz into scoring position at second base. With freshman Mac Surface at the plate, Paz took off for third, sliding in head-first ahead of the throw, which ricocheted off of Rodriguez’ left leg onto the infield grass, rolling toward the mound. Paz raced home, sliding across the plate, securing the win and sending the Mountain Lions into the title game on Saturday.
At Wenatchee on Saturday, the Liberty Bell bats fell silent as Brewster ace A.J. Woodward kept the Mountain Lions off balance and guessing, earning a one hit, 5-1 victory for the Bears, and the 2022 District 6 championship.
The game featured some great defensive play by the local boys, and but for one inning, it was an old fashioned pitcher’s duel. In the second inning, Brewster scored four times on only two hits, Alumbaugh uncharacteristically giving up three walks and a hit batter, all four of those crossing the plate. After that second inning, Alumbaugh would shut down the Bears, giving up only one hit in the last four innings, the fifth run, unearned, coming via an error.
Coach David Aspholm summed up the Brewster game fairly succinctly. “On the offensive side it is tough to win any game with only one hit. We could not get our bats in gear and I think we were a little timid with our swings.”
He had some high praise for his freshman pitcher in the aftermath. “Damon pitched a great game against a very good Brewster team,” said Aspholm. “Sometimes an inning happens. It was very unusual for Damon to give up three walks in one inning.”
The state brackets have Liberty Bell drawing the No. 8 seed of the 16-team tourney. They will play No. 9 Forks in Castle Rock on Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner of that game will advance to play the winner of the No. 1 Toutle Lake vs No. 16 Ilwaco game. The Final Four will be held Friday and Saturday, May 27-28, in Ridgefield.
Track and field
At the Central Washington B League championship, the Liberty Bell distance runners again highlighted the action for the host team. Leki Albright won the girls’ 1,600 meters after a three-and-a-half lap battle with Brewster’s Kaydence Carrington, Albright pulling away on the back stretch of the final lap for the win.
The Liberty Bell sophomore also won the 3,200M by a more comfortable margin, two and three-quarter minutes and almost two-lap lead. Sandra Hernandez placed 6th in the 200M, 2nd in the 400M and 5th in the javelin. Zoe Kaltenbach finished 8th in the 400M. Both girls will join Albright at Thursday’s District 6 championships at Brewster.
On the boys’ side, Fischer Edwards took 1st in the javelin, with Morgan Spellman placing 3rd and Omar Ortega tied for 7th, all three qualifying for the District 6 meet. Isaiah Stoothoff placed 2nd in the high jump to also make the district field. On the track, Will Halpin doubled by winning both the 1,600M and 3,200M runs. Dexter Delaney, nursing a cold, finished 3rd in both races. Aksel Thomson nabbed 2nd in the 3,200M as all three move along to Brewster this week. Kyler Mitchell won the 300M hurdles and helped qualify the 4x400M relay team, along with Spellman and the Chavez-Hernandez brothers, George and John.
The District 6 meet is Thursday (May 19) at Brewster where the top two boys and top three girls qualify for the WIAA state championships at Eastern Washington University next Thursday through Saturday, May 26-28.
The league championships continue in Omak this week. A complete wrap-up of that tournament will appear in next week’s edition.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team has announced its nominations for the 2022-23 team, including two Methow Valley skiers among the 22 athletes named to next winter’s U.S. Ski team’s Nordic contingent.
Mazama resident and 2022 Winter Olympian Novie McCabe is again on the team. Originally named to the Developmental Team last year, McCabe was named to the Olympics squad and competed at the Beijing Games.
Mazama’s Walker Hall, also a Liberty Bell graduate, was named to the men’s D team for the upcoming season. This is Hall’s first nomination to the U.S. team and he joins Will Koch, son of 1976 Innsbruck Olympic silver medalist Bill Koch, on the developmental squad. The elder Koch’s silver medal in the 30K freestyle served as inspiration for Hall’s mother, Leslie, in her pursuit of Olympic dreams and accomplishments.