Last season’s appearance in the Class 3A state tournament marked four in a row for the Gig Harbor High School softball team. Clearly, the Tides are doing something right, as coach Kara Dressel has turned the Class 3A South Sound Conference team into a perennial contender.
“I think a lot of it is just keeping it fun,” said senior center fielder Anna Stewart. “I think Kara does a really good job giving us days off when we need it, keeping it light.”
Gig Harbor is 1-3 to start the 2019 season, but the competition has been stiff. Gig Harbor opened the season against Bonney Lake and pitcher Brooke Nelson, a UW commit and The News Tribune’s 2018 All-Area player of the year.
“It was cool to just see it firsthand,” senior utility player Jayden Sykes said of Nelson. “You never get to see pitching like that. It was tough. It makes everyone else a little easier after facing her.”
Gig Harbor also dropped a 2-0 decision to Stadium, and lost 9-2 to Battle Ground, before bouncing back for a 15-0 win against Bainbridge on March 18. While it would be easy for Dressel to schedule some cupcakes prior to league play, having the Tides face good competition early in the season is a point of emphasis for the coaching staff.
“It’s huge,” Dressel said. “When it comes time for playoffs or our games against Yelm, our girls know how to push, make excellent plays, make double plays. We could play some teams that we could just run over, but our girls need competition, need to be ready to win, and that’s been successful for us getting to state the past four years.”
Kicking the season off with some of the area’s best competition also shows Gig Harbor what areas need improvement.
“It really gives us a chance to know what we need to fix, where we need to correct things, so that’s what we’re working on right now,” Dressel said. “We need to keep our bats hot throughout the game and not have lulls.”
Gig Harbor only lost a pair of seniors from last year’s team, although they are significant losses, in shortstop Lauren Forseth and a do-it-all player in DiaVionne DeWalt. Freshman Audrey Allen takes over at shortstop for the Tides and one player jumping around to different positions, including DeWalt’s catcher position, is Sykes.
“(DeWalt) has big shoes to fill,” Sykes said. “Once we all figure out our roles, I think we’ll be a strong team.”
On the mound, Gig Harbor’s rotation is led by junior Hannah Goodell, who has moved around the field at different positions before returning to pitcher this year.
“I’m a pitcher that wants to get ahead in the count,” Goodell said. “I was away from pitching for a bit, so I just wanted to get that fire back within myself. Kara believed in me and I felt like I was able to do that job.”
Goodell’s go-to pitch early on in the season has been her changeup. The biggest obstacle for Gig Harbor in the SSC play will be Yelm, which has had its run of the league and has been a thorn in Gig Harbor’s side.
“I think right now, Peninsula and Yelm will be some of our best competition,” Stewart said. “I don’t think I’ve beat Yelm once. It’s felt like forever. We’d love to beat them.”
While the wins have been hard to come by early on, Gig Harbor has been in every game so far. While the Tides would like to see the bats catch fire, Gig Harbor’s pitching and fielding should keep it in all its games this season.
“We communicate well,” said junior first baseman Kaylee Costello. “Especially with (Stewart) in the outfield, I’m really confident whenever I see a fly ball go over my head. They communicate with each other, do their shifts. They learn from each batter, too.”
Can Gig Harbor make it five state tournament appearances in a row? The players don’t see why not.
“We’re going to put up a tough fight till the end, that’s for sure,” Costello said. “I expect us to go to state again.”