Prairie softball peaking at perfect time

Falcons are ‘sisters for life’ after overcoming tough regular season

VANCOUVER — The record is easy to see, results that can tell the story of a sports season.

The heart cannot be seen, though, and the heart has a story to tell, as well.

The Prairie Falcons spent most of the season learning to trust each other. Now, they say they are “sisters for life” after turning around their season and qualifying for the Class 3A state softball tournament. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Prairie Falcons spent most of the season learning to trust each other. Now, they say they are “sisters for life” after turning around their season and qualifying for the Class 3A state softball tournament. Photo by Paul Valencia

It is the Prairie heart that the Falcons want to showcase this week at the WIAA Class 3A state softball tournament in Lacey. It is that heart, after all, that got them there.

The Falcons turned a forgettable regular season into a memorable postseason last week, finishing second in the bi-district tournament and qualifying for state.

Prairie had a pedestrian 10-9 record prior to the playoffs — a team that had started the season with question marks and was still questioning itself deep into May.

The three captains of this squad — Clarissa Martinez, Ashley Shelton, and Kylee Snider — acknowledged there were trust issues as the team tried to regroup after so many talented players had graduated the previous two seasons. There were other behind-the-scenes problems, too.

It all worked itself out, though, at the perfect time. The captains credit coach Mariah Dawson for preaching team, team, team.

The Falcons finally got the message, then they finally starting playing to their potential.

“That was a strong point coach had to hit home to us throughout the season,” Snider said. “Now, we have sisters for life.”

And lifetime memories of making it to state.

Prairie will take on Marysville-Pilchuck at noon Friday in the opening round. The tournament is held at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey.

The Falcons won two in a row to open bi-district, including a victory over Yelm, one of the top programs in the Northwest, to qualify for state.

“We had to play our hearts out. That’s how we beat them,” Shelton said, helping to make that whole heart thing become a theme.

A scheduling quirk had Prairie playing those first two games on a Thursday, then returning for the semifinals and finals on Saturday. That meant they got to go home Thursday night knowing they were going to state.

“It was beyond crazy,” Snider said. “Tears of joy and happiness.”

The Falcons returned Saturday, got a walk-off home run from Snider in the 10th inning of the semifinals, and eventually finished second in the tourney. By then, they had accomplished what they set out to do — they had earned one more week with their sisters.

“We finally started trusting each other,” Martinez said. “Coach really pushed us to become better, not just as players but as people, too.”

These Falcons also got to add to a special legacy. This will be the 12th appearance at state for the program since 2000. This might be the most surprising team of the dozen to reach the sweet 16, based on that 10-9 mark before last week. But here are the Falcons, still playing.

“Our record did not reflect who we are as a team at all,” Shelton said. “We showed people who we are. We’re kind of hitting our peak right now.”

In fact, that record might have helped last week.

“Teams kind of looked down on us,” Martinez said. “They weren’t expecting us to be that good.”

Now, the Falcons can laugh about the first game at bi-district. They won 17-9 but were not happy with their defense.

“Let’s just say we got all of our errors out on that game,” Shelton said. “Let’s just say that.”

At least they had their bats, though.

Snider had four hits, including a home run, and drove in four runs. Carly Wentworth hit a home run. Olivia Meyers drove in three runs.

Next came the Yelm game. Win this one, go to state. Lose, travel through the unpredictable consolation bracket. The Falcons got the win, 6-3, scoring four runs in the top of the seventh to break a 2-2 tie. The captains had the four RBI in that frame.

The Falcons got past Stadium in 10 innings in the semifinals, thanks to a change of strategy from their opponents. After intentionally walking Snider three times, Stadium decided to pitch to her. Whoops.

“I tried to show them why they walked me in the first place,” said Snider, who ended the game with a two-run home run.

Meyers, by the way, struck out 13 in her 10-inning complete game, giving up two earned runs in the victory.

The bats. The pitching. The defense. It is all working for the Falcons. But it all started with stuff that cannot be defined by statistics.

“Our season has been a rollercoaster, so far up only to shoot back down,” Shelton said. “We finally pulled it together when it really matters.”


About The Author

Paul Valencia joins after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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