It’s the biggest week of the softball season, but local state tournament-bound teams are focused on maintaining their daily routines.
“We’re really concentrating on just keeping things as normal as we can, try to approach this like any other games,” Prairie coach Jeff Martin said.
Martin’s Pirates, along with Whitepine League rivals Potlatch and Genesee, begin their hunts for glory later this week at the Class 1A state tournament in Caldwell. All three teams are riding high after securing their berths at last week’s district tournament and, at this point in the spring, don’t have many big changes to make — even with a championship on the line.
“We worked on some small things today,” Martin said. “Just try to fine-tune, keep the attitudes up and go down and have fun.”
If experience matters in high-pressure situations like State, all three teams are in good hands. The players vary in age and pressure-packed acumen, but their coaches have all paved roads to success.
Martin, Potlatch’s Dean Butterfield and Genesee’s Brian Malcom each have coached in a state championship game since 2017 — in fact, they’ve led the past three state runners-up (Prairie in 2017, Genesee in 2018 and Potlatch in 2019). This year’s state tournament is the fifth in a row featuring at least two of the three programs.
So while many of their younger players weren’t around for the last state tournament two years ago, wisdom abounds.
“My teams have been there before. Me and my assistant coach have been there before,” Malcom said. “So, we kind of know what to expect, and so we try to relay that to the girls.”
Potlatch (17-1) might be the favorite to claim the state title. The Loggers head to State on a 16-game winning streak, which includes last week’s district tournament crown.
Besides averaging more 15 runs per game and holding opponents to a classification-best 4.3 runs per game, Potlatch has the confidence and state tournament know-how — the swagger — that often separate the top teams from the rest.
Five Loggers played at State in 2019, “and then three of four of them” played at State in 2018, Butterfield said.
“It’s becoming more normal. It’s not scary to them,” the coach said of his players. “I think they feel confident.”
Potlatch has won 14 games by 10 or more runs and has multiple no-hitters on its ledger this season. While the consistent offense and dominant pitching are vital to the Loggers’ success, they can sometimes lead to defensive lapses, Butterfield said.
Potlatch committed seven errors combined in its semifinal and championship district tournament games.
“We’ve had games where there wasn’t a ball hit,” Butterfield said. “So you can go through there and fall asleep thinking every girl is going to get struck out.”
The Loggers earned a first-round bye at State and will face the winner of Glenns Ferry and Genesee at 11 a.m. Pacific on Friday
There’s plenty of familiarity with Genesee, which has played Potlatch three times this spring. But Potlatch and Glenns Ferry haven’t faced off this season and share no common opponents.
“It makes a little bit tougher to prepare,” Butterfield said. “But that’s the thing we’ve done this year is played our game, we don’t worry that much about preparing (for a particular opponent). It depends on the speed of the pitcher, but now we’re getting into where we’ve got to prepare for every speed.”
Genesee (10-11) has weathered an up-and-down season with a roster that’s mostly freshmen, but it didn’t hinder the Bulldogs from qualifying for their eighth consecutive state tourney.
Gradual improvements have bolstered the young team through its trials. One of Genesee’s six freshmen, Harlei Donner, is second on the team with a .514 average. All three seniors — Kyleigh Carter, Bailey Leseman and Kami Stout — were on varsity when the Bulldogs went to State in 2019.
Carter is hitting a team-best .526 and Leseman is third at .479.
“The freshmen just kept getting better and better and better,” Malcom said, adding of his seniors, “they’re such good leaders.”
The Bulldogs start the state tournament at 9 a.m. Pacific on Friday. The Pilots (14-6) were the Western Idaho Conference’s regular-season champions and finished second in the district tournament. Four of their six losses are against Class 2A teams.
“They’re going to be good competition,” Malcom said. “If we play relaxed and play like we did Thursday (in the district tournament), we’ll do fine.”
Prairie (15-5) doesn’t have much state softball experience, but has been through similar gauntlets at state basketball through the years.
That might help, Martin said, in navigating Friday’s series of games. The Pirates could play up to three times that day.
“Luckily, Prairie has been fairly good over the years,” Martin said. “So the state tournament is something we always try to play for.”
The Pirates lead the Whitepine League in offense (15.6 runs per game) and plated an astonishing 40 runs earlier this spring against Nezperce. The fact the wins keep coming is made more impressive by the fact the Pirates only have 10 players on their varsity roster.
“I’ve always had the luxury of having big teams. I haven’t had a small team for 18, 19 years,” Martin said. “It’s been a little bit different approach and not having that luxury of being able to rest a kid here or there. They kind of have to ironman-up a little bit.”
Prairie’s first opponent is Rimrock, the No. 3 seed out of the WIC. The Raiders (13-6), of Bruneau, won three consecutive slowpitch state titles from 1999-2001. First pitch is scheduled for 9 a.m. Pacific on Friday.