Sports

Yelm’s softball dominance shows again: Cutler is 4th straight Tornado to earn Player of Year honors

Yelm’s Tayelyn Cutler (23) pitches in the fifth inning. Yelm played Southridge in a softball game at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey, Wash., on Friday, May 24, 2019.
Yelm’s Tayelyn Cutler (23) pitches in the fifth inning. Yelm played Southridge in a softball game at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey, Wash., on Friday, May 24, 2019. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

A generation of softball players has completed four-year high school careers with only Yelm Tornados being selected as The Olympian’s All-Area player of the year.

Ally Choate, now a record-setting right fielder for Western Athletic Conference champion Seattle University, claimed the award in both 2016 and 2017. Last season, it was pitcher Drea Schwaier, who went on to a 19-4 record as a freshman at Whitworth University, taking the honor.

Tayelyn Cutler, a senior who helped drive Yelm to their second state Class 3A championship game appearance with both her pitching and her bat, is the 2019 honoree.

She posted a 13-3 record in 20 pitching appearances, holding foes to a .105 batting average. Batting leadoff the latter half of the season, she was one of seven Tornados to hit better than .400, with a .448 mark and a team-high six home runs. Cutler played errorless ball in the field all season, at pitcher, first base and in the outfield.

“If you have players who are good enough to make all-league or all-area, you’re going to have quite a bit of success, especially if they’re also leaders like Tayelyn is,” said Yelm coach Lindsay Walton.

Cutler, who will play next season at Centralia College, said she was “excited and honored” to receive the player of the year designation, but sees it as one more product of a team environment that has placed Yelm in the top three at state the last three seasons, although the Tornados didn’t raise a championship trophy during that span.

“Our team helped me get this far and we have such great support from our fans and from the community. We’re all a family,” she said.

Cutler and junior left-hander Hailey Brown left Yelm with no drop-off in the pitcher’s circle after Schwaier graduated. Cutler, who sometimes sacrifices pinpoint accuracy for speed, threw more than two-thirds of the Tornados’ season pitch count, with 2,139 deliveries.

“Tayelyn was a rock for us on the mound,” said Walton. “She had some amazing performances. She was a force to be reckoned with. Teams struggled with her. Our girls had confidence behind her, trusted her to carry us on her shoulders.”

Cutler pitched two no-hitters, including a 14-strikeout, 7-0 shutout of Southridge in the opening game of the state tournament. She credits added confidence for her progress over the course of her career at Yelm.

“When I was a freshmen, I was scared. I felt a lot of pressure, but I’ve grown with my team,” she said.

Cutler’s one statistically-evident flaw as a pitcher has been an occasional struggle with the strike zone. Throwing a variety of pitches – a rise ball, change-up, curve and screwball – she struck out 233 batters in 101 innings, but also walked 117 and hit 10 more.

“Obviously, you want pitchers to get ahead in the count and stay ahead,” said Walton. “But she keeps batters on their toes. Plus, she’s really at her best with the bases loaded. It’s incredible how she can pull through in situations like that. You always feel like she’s going to get out of the jam.”

Though Cutler, who isn’t committed to a full-time select team this summer as she prepares to play college ball, acknowledges a need to work on throwing more strikes and walking fewer batters at the higher level. However, she doesn’t plan to abandon her hard-throwing style.

Down the stretch, Cutler threw the first pitch when Yelm was at home and faced it when the Tornados were away.

“Tayelyn had never batted leadoff. We’ve always had one or two lefty slappers to put at the top of the lineup but we didn’t this season,” Walton said. “She usually has quality at-bats, she swings hard. And, if we batted her leadoff, she’d get more at-bats over the course of the game.”

Cutler took her first turn at lead-off during a game with Shelton.

“I was nervous, but I thought I’d do just fine.”

She hit a first-pitch home run in the state quarterfinals against Lake Washington and then belted the second pitch over the fence at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey to help Yelm give her a 3-0 lead before she took the mound.

Cutler said she has plenty of vivid memories from her high school career.

“This year, people didn’t think we would reach the championship game, so when we beat Mountain View (3-1 in the state semifinals), that was a great memory,” she said. “Last season, when we beat Redmond for third place after they beat us in the championship game the year before and in the first round was another good moment.

“Even though we never won a championship, I’m super proud of what we did accomplish.”

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