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Prep softball: Centralia reloads in quest for second straight state berth

Mar. 9—If the 2023 softball season was a rollercoaster, Centralia High School's squad would earn a front row seat.

It started out unblemished, then hit a rough patch after spring break before suddenly turning on the jets in May with a four-game winning streak that catapulted the Tigers to the Class 2A state tournament.

"Usually we come out with a slow start, then get better at the end of the season," coach David Orr said. "I have no answers for what happened in the middle of our season. They figured it out right in the nick of time."

What happened in Saleh has left a trace of motivation for the 2024 group.

An 0-2 showing, one that featured a walk-off heartbreaker in the opening round, has Centralia viewing this year as an expectation for a return trip to state this spring.

"Stay committed, stay humble and keep grinding," infielder Makayla Chavez said. "We know it is going to be hard."

Placing second in the district tournament a year ago allowed the Tigers to be one of the last 16 teams standing at state for the first time since 2011. A class of four seniors, a pair of them key cogs, ended the drought.

With a majority of the team back in the fold, paced by Chavez as a returning first-team EvCo selection, Centralia doesn't plan on sneaking up on anyone.

"Practice we really try to lock in," senior Gracie Schofield said.

Chavez, Schofield and Lauren Wasson are the trifecta of seniors that seek a back-to-back trek to Saleh. Orr called them "irreplaceable" as two of them make up the left side of the infield and Wasson as the backstop.

It is why those three believe the infield defense will be a factor in the Tigers' success.

"Our defense has been strong for the last two years," Wasson said.

Junior Hollynn Wakefield pitched in Centralia's biggest games last season and returns as the unquestioned top pitcher in the circle.

In a 0-0 tie against Mark Morris and a 6-0 triumph over R.A. Long, the same team that ended the Tigers' season at state, at a Jamboree held at Recreation Park on Friday night, Wakefield showcased some zip on her fastball that won her some battles in early counts.

"She's definitely been in the weight room," Orr said. "Her curveball has a better break on it."

The offense hummed versus the Lumberjacks, initiating hard contact several times in the three-inning contest. It plated four of the six runs in the third inning.

"It was good to go out like that," Schofield said.

Most of the returners for Centralia saw first-hand how deep the Evergreen Conference is. Five of the seven teams finished within two games of each other in the standings.

Some return a nucleus, others will be a bit more inexperienced, but the feeling amongst the Tigers remains the same.

Coming out of what they believe to be the deepest conference in 2A with another winning record will be a difficult task.

"We know we can do it," Chavez said.