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Fastpitch: Wolves respond to adversity to clinch state berth
South Kitsap coach Tami Lester-Dame was perplexed.
The Wolves avoided elimination in the West Central/Southwest Bi-District Tournament with a 6-4 victory Friday against Union, but their disposition seemed much different.
“My team just seems discombobulated,” she said. “I don’t understand the discouragement.”
Lester-Dame said she had conversations with several players afterward that had seen their playing time diminish — or had their positions shifted — after the Union game. It seemed to work as South defeated the 4A Greater Saint Helens League’s top seed, Skyview, 2-1, to clinch its first state-playoff berth since 2003.
The Wolves (12-13), who lost 8-2 against Central Kitsap on Saturday evening to place seventh at districts, open against Woodinville (23-0) at noon Friday at Dwight Merkel Park in Spokane. South lost a nonleague contest, 8-0, on March 26 against the Falcons.
“We know what they have,” Lester-Dame said. “We’re not a different team — we’re a more focused team.”
In her first season as coach, Lester-Dame has not been averse to making changes. In addition to changing starters, she also has shifted several players to different positions. She said an opposing Narrows League coach told her South looks like a different team every time they play.
“I have learned not to be afraid to move kids around and see where they produce,” she said.
The Wolves did just enough of that against Skyview to advance to state. Ashley Lockhart and Ashley Chamberlin both had RBI hits in the fourth inning that gave the latter just enough run support to win.
“That was the Ashley show,” Lester-Dame said. “Ashley Lockhart has come up big for us numerous times.”
While Lockhart finished 2 for 3 with a double, Chamberlin pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning after a walk forced in a run.
“Chamberlain dug down and composed herself,” Lester-Dame said. “She was amazing.”
Despite losing the late game against the Cougars, Lester-Dame said she felt her team ended up with a better draw than CK, which plays defending state champion Walla Walla in the opening round.
A victory in the opening round would pit South against the winner of Emerald Ridge vs. Marysville Pilchuck at 4 p.m. Friday. Lester-Dame would prefer the former as she vividly remembers the Jaguars upsetting the Wolves, 13-2, two years ago at districts to derail South’s state prospects.
“Emerald Ridge has been pretty significant in our playoff picture,” she said. “We have revenge planned out there.”
Regardless of the outcome, Lester-Dame said she is pleased with how much her team has progressed this season. The Wolves feature few seniors and could be even younger this weekend as center fielder Taylor Sunkel suffered a sprained ankle against Union. Lester-Dame, who replaced her with sophomore Chelsea Foster, is uncertain whether Sunkel will be able to play.
She said she is excited to see how her youthful team responds against the state’s elite.
“I don’t think myself or the kids foresaw this at the beginning of the season,” Lester-Dame said. “It’s been a great ride. These kids have rallied.”