Sports

Tahoma finds unfamiliar taste in defeat | High School Softball

The Tahoma softball team will be playing in the state tournament. - Eric Mandel, The Reporter
The Tahoma softball team will be playing in the state tournament.
— image credit: Eric Mandel, The Reporter

When the South Puget Sound League 4A district bracket came out, Tahoma head coach Tom Miligan admittedly looked ahead to the second round. He saw, at worst, a fourth place finish.

“I thought we had a pretty good draw going into the tournament,” Milian said. “We kind of played against Bethel like we played the week before against Todd Beamer. It was very unlike us.”

After finishing their second consecutive undefeated regular season, the Tahoma softball team entered the tournament play with confidence. They hit their first snag in the SPSL tournament on May 16th, dropping a game to Todd Beamer, before rebounding against Kentridge.

“We were all kind of glad (the first loss) happened not during the playoffs,” said senior second baseman Morgan Engelhardt, who has participated in the state tournament all four years. “It didn’t matter much.”

While Miligan was already scanning the winner’s side of the district bracket, Bethel, which finished 11-5 during the regular season, had other ideas, jumping out to an early lead during their first round district tournament matchup on May 24th and never looking back. The Bears put runners in scoring position in the first three innings, but uncharacteristically left them stranded. Miligan didn’t know if he should pin the loss on jitters, being “overly juiced up” or first-timers to the tournament. But even the veterans were struggling.

“There are so many variables you can put into it,” he said. “It was kind of a tough one to take.”

Miligan said Bethel earned the win.

“I thought they did a wonderful job and kudos with what they did,” he said.

With the initial loss, Tahoma faced a win-or-go-home game against rival Kentwood and their ace hurler Kendall Goodwin. And Kentwood jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning.

“It was, ‘Holy crap, we could be out in two games,’” Miligan said. “Kendall could lock in and have one of those games where she throws 12 or 13 strikeouts.”

The Bears righted themselves and splintered their way through the rest of the tournament, outscoring their opponents 29-9 in the three wins. They earned sixth place and a date in the state tournament with Redmond at 10 a.m. on May 30.

Mia Corbin, named the SPSL Fastpitch Player of the Year for the second time, led the offense this season with a remarkable .526 batting average, along with 29 runs, 20 RBI’s and 22 stolen bases in 23 attempts. Engelhardt, a co-captain and two-time SPSL 4A first team selection, batted .500 and added 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts.

Engelhardt is one of, if not the, only Tahoma fastpitch softball player to reach state all four years of her prep career.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine freshman year that I would be able to make it four years in a row, or four years at all.”

Engelhardt said winning the first game is key in state, something they’ve struggled with the past two weeks, and is the reason the squad settled for third place last season. The Bears ran into a familiar rain delay prior to their game with Bethel. Miligan and Engelhardt said it’s easy to lose intensity during those delays and the squad followed its routine of watching the musical comedy movie “Pitch Perfect.”

“It’s kind of a whole team karaoke session,” she said. “I don’t think any movie can really replace ‘Pitch Perfect’ for our team.”

But beyond energizing cinema, Miligan knows success in the sport revolves around pitching and he has two of the best  — Carley Nance and Maddie Scott — who posted 1.50 and 2.92 ERA’s, respectively, and threw a combined 153 strikeouts in 142 innings. He anticipates switching off between the two throughout state, which he hopes will keep each fresh compared to the other teams that have only one star on the mound.

“It’s a game of pitching,” Miligan said. “I feel very comfortable with either one of mine.”

It’s rare for a team to finish an entire season undefeated. Miligan knew a loss or two could happen.

“I didn’t think it would happen in that Bethel game, but it did,” he said. “Having some losses isn’t a bad thing. There are very few teams that run the table.”

Miligan said losing helps put wins in perspective.

“It has almost been a full year (since the last loss),” he said. “Now you kind of have that empty feeling — that pit in the gut where we are walking across the field and… all of a sudden I’m looking at long faces.”

Miligan has been part of postseason-less campaigns in the past and is trying to enjoy the ride, even though his athletes help push the running gag that the stress of the game does a number on his health.

“It’s fun as a coach,” Miligan said. “Does it drive me nuts? Well of course it does... hopefully they have AED machines … or someone who is really good at CPR.”

 

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