WALLA WALLA - Wa-Hi heads into this weekend's Class 4A softball regional tournament in Spokane with a 22-1 record, a No. 2 seed and a lineup loaded with Big Nine Conference all-Cascade Division talent.
The Blue Devils have been awarded six first-team selections in a vote of Cascade Division coaches, including Most Valuable Player Hope Klicker and co-Outstanding Offensive Player of the Year Vicki Reardon. And Wa-Hi coach Jerry Humphreys, winner of four of the division's previous five Coach of the Year accolades, and his assistant, Arch McHie, are recipients of the first Cascade Division Coaching Staff of the Year award.
"We went to staff of the year this year," Humphreys said of the format change. "It's always been a program type of work."
McHie, who has been the varsity assistant coach for the past three years after coaching at the junior varsity level for a number of years, works mainly with the Blue Devil outfielders, Humphreys said.
"Arch takes care of the outfielders, I take the infielders and we share pitchers, catchers and hitting," Humphreys said.
And they're doing yeomen work with the Blue Devil pitchers. Klicker, a junior right-hander, and Alyson Ambler, a sophomore lefty, are the Cascade Division's two first-team pitchers.
Klicker, who absorbed Wa-Hi's first defeat of the season in last weekend's 2-1 loss to Richland in the district championship game, is 11-1 on the season with 97 strikeouts in 70 innings while walking just 13. She has a 0.54 earned run average.
Ambler is 11-0 on the year. She's registered 77 strikeouts in 67 innings and issued 19 walks while compiling a 0.52 ERA.
Klicker and Ambler were both 7-0 while pitcher the Blue Devils to the Cascade Division championship.
"I have never seen two pitchers coming from the same team make first-team before," Humphreys said. "This is exciting for now and great for the program to have these two quality athletes."
Klicker and Ambler also split time at first base.
Klicker boosted her MVP resume by hitting .531 with five homers and 17 runs batted in during division play. She was errorless at first base in 52 chances.
Ambler connected for a .460 batting average, hit three homers, drove home 13 runs and also played perfect in the field on 50 plays.
In earning recognition as the division's top offensive player, Reardon, Wa-Hi's senior catcher, hit .581 while compiling a .717 on-base percentage. She socked two home runs and had 17 extra base hits among her 25 hits overall and led the team with 23 RBIs.
"She had just an incredible season," Humphreys said of Reardon, who is headed for Whitworth University in the fall where she plans to continue her softball career.
Wa-Hi's other first-team selections are senior second baseman Jill McDaniels and sophomore outfielders Paige Pontarolo and Andrea Hamada. Senior Tarynn Fortune was a second-team outfield selection and junior Ashley Bezdicek earned honorable mention at third base.
McDaniels, who will continue her softball career at Walla Walla Community College in the fall, batted .510 with a home run and 18 runs batted in, and she stole five bases. Pontarolo, who plays center field, hit .556 with five extra base hits and eight RBIs. Left fielder Hamada hit .395 with a homer and 13 RBIs. And Fortune, who was also second team as a junior and honorable mention as a sophomore, finished division play with a .297 average, one homer and 11 RBIs.
"We feel our kids are deserving of the recognition, and it's great that other coaches felt the same way," Humphreys said. "Our one disappointment was that our senior shortstop, Alicia Baker, was not recognized, because we think pretty highly of her."
Rounding out the Cascade Division first team are Richland junior first baseman Devauna Green, Richland sophomore third baseman Bailey Walthers, West Valley senior shortstop Emily Shepard, Kamiakin designated hitter Katie Martell and a pair of Richland outfielders, junior Sydney Cejka and sophomore Lexi McCracken. Shepard, who once lived in Walla Walla, was voted the division's Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year.
Regional play begins today at University High, with Wa-Hi matched up with Gonzaga Prep, the Greater Spokane League's No. 3 seed, and GSL No. 1 seed University vs. Southridge, the Big Nine's fourth seed, in a pair of 3 p.m. games. At 5 p.m., it will be Richland vs. Kamiakin, No. 5 from the Big Nine, and GSL No. 2 seed Mead vs. Big Nine No. 3 seed Wenatchee.
The tournament concludes Saturday, with four teams advancing to the Class 4A state tournament the following weekend in Tacoma.
"You've got to win two before you lose two," said Humphreys, who is trying to get the Blue Devils back to state for the third time in four years. Wa-Hi brought home the third-place trophy a year ago.
And Humphreys doesn't think last week's loss in the district championship game will have a negative effect on his team.
"It's always frustrating to take a loss, but in the grand scheme of things you would rather lose that one than any in the next couple of weeks," he said. "Our kids have refocused and they are working hard. That loss doesn't change their goal or their ability to achieve that goal.
"It was fun while we were cruising, and 22-1 is still a pretty good record," Humphreys added. "But if anything, the loss has taken us back to where we were a few weeks ago when we were not playing to lose but just playing to win."