No fastpitch program in the state, regardless of classification, has been as successful over the last three seasons than the Montesano High School.
Montesano won the crown last year, scoring some revenge against La Center with a convincing 8-2 triumph in the title contest. The title came following a 2017 regular season where they posted victories over 2A state champion W.F. West (5-0) and 2B titlist Pe Ell (7-6).
They have plenty to crow about.
But if you ask the seniors on this year’s squad, the five who have been with the team through one of the best four-year runs any fastpitch team in the state has ever experienced and you’d be surprised to hear what has been the best part of all of this.
“Definitely, the van rides,” senior pitcher Samantha Stanfield stated – a declaration which was later echoed by her battery mate Peyton Poler.
“Out of everything in high school I think I will miss the van rides the most,” said Poler, who went 4 for 4 and drove in three runs during the Bulldogs’ state title clinching victory over La Center last season. “My stomach starts to hurt because we are laughing so much.”
Whether its singing songs or constructing new dugout cheers that will later be used in the game, the importance of the away game trip is not lost on the Montesano players and coaches.
“We usually take three vans and each van has its own personality,” said assistant coach Lucas Wisdom, who has been with the program for 15 seasons. “Coach (Pat) Pace’s van is pretty quiet and laid back. Mine is just rowdy and loud. But no matter which one you’re in its good bonding.”
And bonding was one of the main focal points heading into this season for the Bulldogs after they graduated 10 seniors from last year’s title team.
“This is a brand new team it feels like,” Stanfield said. “We knew coming in we needed to replace that leadership and the bond we developed as a team over the last few years. We had to start fresh this year.”
Nothing, according to Poler and Stanfield, has helped accomplish the bonding side of things more than the trips.
“Last year was so much fun,” Poler said, “but we were all excited at coming in and making new bonds with this team this year, and now we are all striving towards the same goal.”
Joining Poler and Stanfield on the roster this year as seniors Katie Granstrom, Chelsi Howard and Kaydee Mittleider
Through the midway point of their senior season the five players have gone a combined 76-15 over their 3 1/2 years with the program. The ultimate goal for the squad is to join the 2008-2009 Montesano team as the only back-to-back state champions in program history.
“I wouldn’t say there is pressure,” Poler said. “Everyone just wants to be out there playing together.”
Few coaches in the state prep their team better for a deep postseason run than Pace.
Once again the coach has adopted a “take on all-comers” mindset as you would be hard-pressed to find a more challenging non-league slate than what the Bulldogs are facing this season.
Montesano has already knocked off a trio of 3A state participants from 2017 in Tahoma (10-0), Auburn Mountainview (3-1) and Holy Names Academy (6-1). In addition, they also have a win over Lakeside (9 Mile), a team that finished fourth at the 1A tournament last year.
As remarkable as it sounds, those teams may comprise the easy portion of the Bulldogs’ non-league schedule. Montesano will close out the regular season with games against 3A defending state champion Redmond (May 4), 2B defending state champion Pe Ell (May 7) and 2A defending state champion W.F. West (May 21) before heading into district play.
“Our coaches give us the hardest schedule because they know it helps us in the long run,” Stanfield said. “I actually love the competition. I love coming out knowing we are playing the 2A state champ or the 3A state champ. That drives me.”
Through their first 10 games the Bulldogs’ only setback so far this year was a 2-1 loss at 3A Greater Saint Helens League leader Prairie.
“It’s just always just been our mentality – we want to play the best so we can be the best,” Wisdom said. “We want to challenge these girls and they’ve step up.”
Montesano will begin its quests towards another state championship with the district tournament on May 16. The 1A state tournament will be held May 25-26 in Richland.
“We’re still chasing that (title). I’m still pretending we’re the underdog,” Stanfield said. “I want a state title just as bad, if not more, than last year.”