Washougal High School (WHS) seniors Audrey Thompson and Elaina Tauialo were not happy last spring after a challenging fastpitch softball season that ended with the Panthers winning just two games.
To be fair, it was a tough season for everyone in the Greater St. Helens 2A League except for Woodland and Ridgefield, which both had pitchers who are now playing for National Collegiate Athletic Association Division-I colleges. The Beavers went on to win the state championship.
“We tried to bunt and play small ball,” Panthers coach John Carver said. “We felt happy just to get someone on base against those pitchers, who were the best in the state.”
Thompson and Tauialo vowed never to have a losing fastpitch softball season again, and came up with an idea.
“I heard that other schools like Camas had a slowpitch softball team, so I went to our athletic director and really pushed it,” Thompson said.
WHS athletic director Gary McGarvie eventually made the move to create a slowpitch team thanks to the tenacity of Thompson and Tauialo, who kept pitching their idea every day last spring.
“This new sport at Washougal is completely athlete driven from our captains Thompson and Tuaolo,” said Panthers coach Heather Carver, who is leading the new team with her husband John. “About three quarters of the players on the slowpitch team are fastpitch players.”
“All our fastpitch players are going to have another two months to work on their fielding skills, throwing skills and outfielding skills,” John Carver said, “but the biggest difference between fastpitch and slowpitch is the hitting.”
In slowpitch, every player can hit the ball, so the defensive players get a serious workout.
A recent scrimmage between WHS players ended with a score of 15-14, with the winning team scoring seven runs in the last inning to post a comeback win. Because of the high scoring, slowpitch games have a five-run per inning limit except for the last inning, and games are called after 90 minutes.
Panthers will take on larger schools
When WHS, a 2A school, opened its season Sept. 11, the Panthers played Battle Ground High School, a 4A school. Since the sport was first sanctioned by the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association in 2018, nearly all the slowpitch teams are from large schools, including Camas High School (CHS), which went undefeated in Greater St. Helens League play last fall.
The other schools may be larger, but few can match the interest the sport has generated in Washougal.
During a recent GSHL slowpitch meeting held at CHS, officials asked each coach how many players they had, and several of the larger schools’ coaches responded that they didn’t have enough to field a full team because they were waiting for players to join after being cut from volleyball and soccer squads.
“Evergreen and Columbia River didn’t even have nine players, and then little ol’ Washougal starts out with 17,” Heather Carver said.
The 20-game regular season is a short one, starting on Sept. 11 and wrapping up on Oct. 21. There will be a state tournament during the first weekend of November, and WHS coaches don’t see any reason why their team can’t make a trip to the big show.
“I want to win,” Heather Carver said. “We are taking it personal. We want to win games for Washougal. This is not a sunny vacation.”
Thompson and Tauialo are thrilled to be a part of WHS’ first slowpitch team.
“I’m really excited to play the big schools,” Tauialo said, “and you know, in every way, this is just going to help our fastpitch team and our school.”