Sports

Wolves smiling these days

"Sal Rizzo leaned up against the dugout and grinned as he watched the Coupeville High girls' slowpitch softball team take infield practice. Rizzo had a reason to smile.Since 1988 the Coupeville assistant coach has seen the good times and the bad ones. This spring is definitely in the category of a good one.Coupeville, for the first time in eight years, has qualified for the Tri-district tournament. The Wolves, 14-8, meet Tacoma Baptist at 10 a.m. today in the first round of the tournament at Skagit Valley Community College. The top five teams advance to the state tournament May 26-27 in Spokane.This is a good team, said Rizzo, this team can go a long ways.Two years ago, there was just one way for the program to go: Up. The Wolves had hit bottom. Part of the problem came five years ago when not enough girls showed interest in slowpitch and Coupeville couldn't field a team.We had to start all over again, Rizzo said.The team struggled through the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Often the Wolves were overmatched as was the case in their 1998 season opener. We lost 46-0, said April Bagby.Bagby, and fellow seniors Amahra Leaman, Rachelle Solomon, Michelle Martin, and Suzy Zustiak would go through an 0-40 stretch before experiencing the thrill of victory.It may have been painful to go through, but more than anything, they can appreciate where they came from, Coupeville coach Randy Dickson said.Martin said I think we all knew it would get better at some point.Last season was a turnaround for the Wolves, who went 9-11. The players, however, weren't satisfied with the record. They vowed to do even better this season.We all thought this would be the year, Solomon said.The Wolves started off slowly, but finished the season as the hottest team in the Northwest A League. Coupeville won eight of its last nine games, including four straight in league play. During the stretch run, the Wolves avenged losses to Archbishop Thomas Murphy, Lynden, and LaConner.The 22-4 rout of LaConner enabled the Wolves to finish league play at 8-4, tying ATM and Concrete for second place in the standings. Tuesday, the tie was broken in a special three-inning round-robin playoff at Skagit. Coupeville defeated Concrete 4-3 and ATM 5-4 to earn the league's No. 2 berth to district.In both games, the Wolves spotted their opponents a lead, then fought back for the victory.We dug a hole early, Dickson said. Our kids are used to pressure. They've been in a do-or-die situation for almost three weeks. Playing in games with all that pressure really paid off.Against Concrete, the latter scored three times in the top of the third but the Wolves answered with four runs. Zustiak and Ashley Bagby each drilled key two-out run-scoring hits.In the ATM game, ATM scored four times in the top of the first but Coupeville rallied with four in the bottom half. Erica Lamb's clutch two-out single scored Martin with the winning run in the bottom of the third.Coupeville backed up its clutch hitting with spectacular defensive plays.Suzy made a fabulous sliding catch to close out the game against Concrete, Dickson said. Then with two outs in the top of third against ATM, Amahra dove to the ground and threw out a runner. That play was huge.Dickson also noted the pitching of April Bagby, who didn't walk a batter in the two games.She really did a nice job, Dickson said. If she got behind on a hitter, she would make them put it into play. She has confidence that her teammates will make the defensive play.April Bagby points out that one of the big differences in this year's team is that everyone contributes. There are no stars.Martin notes that the team has more depth than ever before. Even our freshmen are good players, she said.Leaman says the Wolves have more confidence.And April Bagby adds we have heart. Everyone wants it so badly.The players are quick to credit Dickson for helping turn around the program.Right from the start, he believed in us, Leaman said.Added April Bagby he's optimistic, he's competitive, and he has confidence in us. We think he deserves to be the league's coach of the year.After having qualified for district, the players have set their sights on getting to the state tournament. Coupeville has never played in the state slowpitch tournament.I feel we can win at state, Rizzo said. It's just a matter of getting there."

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