It’s going to be another year of this, folks.
In 2022, the W.F. West and Tumwater softball teams faced off five times, including matchups in the district finals and state semifinals, with four games decided by two runs and one by one.
“You get these two teams together, and you’re going to get an exciting game,” WFW coach Kevin Zylstra said.
Another year, and that still holds true, even early in the season. The two squads met up at Rec Park in Chehalis to open their respective 2A EvCo schedules, and — as per usual — found themselves in a down-to-the-wire classic, with the Bearcats mounting a late comeback to win 3-2.
Last season’s matchups were five end-to-end duels in the circle between Tumwater’s Ella Ferguson and W.F. West’s Kamy Dacus. Ferguson is back to lead the T-Birds, but the Bearcats had to replace their graduated ace, and came into Tuesday with a staff full of inexperienced hurlers and a plan to rotate through them as needed.
That was the plan, at least, until junior Ella Young made Zylstra change his mind.
“She really struggled the other day, but today I wanted to start her again,” Zylstra said. “I was just going to see how long we could go with her, and she never gave me a reason to put another pitcher in.”
Tumwater blitzed Young early, with Ferguson drawing a leadoff walk to start the first, Kylie Waltermeyer tripling her home, and Jaime Haase bringing Waltermeyer in on a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0 on the game’s first out.
From there, though, Young dazzled, flipping and fluttering all sorts of offspeed by Thunderbirds left and right. Tumwater didn’t get a runner into scoring position again until the sixth inning, and while Young only finished with three strikeouts, her defense did everything right to deal with a whole lot of weak contact.
“She started throwing that screwball inside, and that would bind them up a little bit, and then we’d go changeup away, fastball inside,” Zylstra said. “She was just going in and out so well, and Rachel behind the plate was doing so well spotting pitches.”
Opposite her, Ferguson was just as dominant early, striking out six batters her first pass through the W.F. West order with a fastball that was simply too much to handle. She ended up with nine punchouts in six innings.
“Ella threw a great game,” Tumwater coach Ashley Lupinski said. “She gave us every opportunity to win. I thought her and Jaime (Haase) did a great job as a battery.”
The Bearcats scratched a run back on a two-out RBI single by Staysha Fluetsch in the bottom of the fourth, but still trailed as the sun went down and the bright lights came on at Rec Park.
But with the spotlight on them, they didn’t shy away.
“We had a lot of our mature hitters up at the plate, who have been in spots like this many times, facing pitchers like (Ferguson),” Zylstra said. “They were able to come through.”
Brielle Etter drew a four-pitch walk to get things started in the sixth, and after taking second on a groundout, scored on a two-out single up the middle by Avalon Myers.
With two outs and Fluetsch — who had two of W.F. West’s four hits off of Ferguson — coming to the plate, Myers put the pressure on, stealing second. Two pitches later, the move paid off, as Fluetsch knocked another single up the middle, scoring her and giving the Bearcats their first lead of the day.
“Staysha was just tough today,” Zylstra said.
The rally put W.F. West three outs away from the winning, and after a two-out single made things that much more dramatic, the Bearcats got the last one on a wild play when Ferguson beat out an infield single, only for WFW to get Erika Schock trying to stretch at third.
True to form, the Bearcats and Thunderbirds didn’t disappoint.
Both sides are set to stay in 2A EvCo action Friday, with Tumwater going to Shelton and W.F. West heading to Centralia.