CLE ELUM — The Upper Kittitas County softball all-stars shocked the region last July, going from third at the Washington Babe Ruth state tournament to Pacific Northwest 10U regional champions.
UKC has a new look as it enters this summer — two different squads can lay at least some claim to that championship — but the expectations are basic as the Warriors head to Forks for state tournament play that begins Thursday.
“Our goals are to make fewer errors, and really just play as a team, use what we’ve been working on during the season, just good baserunning, working together, good attitudes and all that stuff that goes along with it,” 12U coach Wendie Kelly said. “We have a great group of girls. They’ve been playing together since first or second grade, and they’re having fun. One of our goals, too, is to have fun. That’s what makes them want to come back and play again.”
Wendie Kelly and husband Kevin were part of the coaching staff of last year’s 10U squad, and six of the players have moved up an age group as well — Sasha Hopkins, Anna Kelly, Tori Kretschman, Bricky McBride, Melli Rodriguez and Marrissa Wolf — to form a team of all sixth-graders. Ke’Mesha Howard, Grace Terrill and Davi Vaughn are back on the 10U squad.
“I think we’re going in with a fairly strong team, but there are some strong teams there, too,” Wendie Kelly said. “We have our work cut out for our kids; we know it.”
The 12s start against the host team at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, then face Hoquiam and Ellensburg in pool play Friday. Hoquiam automatically advances to regionals July 19-22 by being the host, and the top two squads other than the Bombers will move on in each age group.
Last year, the Warriors went to state, saw how much they needed to improve, then made dramatic strides to become a championship team. This summer, the 12s have done more than their fair share of preparation in advance, winning two tournaments in Moses Lake and one in Montesano, and going 4-2 in a National Softball Association state tournament last weekend in the Tri-Cities.
“It was fun to see us compete, and I think that’s going to help us going into this weekend,” Kelly said. “We’re all looking forward to it.”
The 12U regional champion will advance to the Babe Ruth World Series in Alachua, Fla., Aug. 2-9. Babe Ruth softball only has World Series in the 12U and 16U age groups.