THOMAS – The Snake River Lady Panthers have had a very good season to date. The only thing that would make things better will be if they return home from the 3A state softball tournament in Coeur d’Alene with some hardware, meaning that they played well and won some games.
The 3A tournament will have a true double-elimination format, so the Panthers will have their chances, they will just have to take advantage of their opportunities.
While this team is young, they have seniors in key positions and those seniors will have to perform, beginning with starting pitcher Anna Larsen and starting shortstop Abby Tew. Both will have help, but they will need to shine.
From the top of the bracket, there is a very tough team in Gooding, who has amassed a 22-5 record. I am always in awe of teams that can work their way through the season, winning 20 or more games, especially if they aren’t just playing the same three or four teams over and over again.
Gooding played an aggressive schedule, but there are a few things that jump off of their schedule. They played Kimberly four times, Buhl five times, Filer — who made the tournament as a play-in game winner — six times and won nearly all of those games. That is 15 of their 22 wins coming at the hands of only three teams. That is curious, and when you throw in three wins against 2A Firth, that is 18 of their 22 wins. They lost to Kuna, but show wins over Borah and Thunder Ridge and losses against LaGrande, OR, and two late season losses to Filer by a big margin are curious.
I think Gooding may be ripe for an upset against Fruitland in the very first game of the tournament. Stranger things have happened and Fruitland has a habit of being ready when the state tournament rolls around. Fruitland finished third in the regular season in the always tough conference that features conference champion Homedale, one of the favorites to win it all. They are playing their best softball at just the right time and they are the pick to win this first game.
South Fremont won the District 6 tournament, unseating perennial state fixture Sugar-Salem in the process. Priest River finished second to Timberlake up north, so they may be a bit of a sleeper in here. Priest River had no answer for Timberlake, losing all five times that the two teams faced each other. It would be no surprise if Priest River wound up in the finals, but don’t think that South Fremont will roll over and give it to Priest River. South Fremont started the season slowly and had a mid-season meltdown, when they lost three straight games to Kimberly and Filer, but finished strong, blasting their way through the District 6 tournament.
I am tending to lean towards Priest River in this one, but I give the Cougars of South Fremont a chance.
The bottom half of the bracket features Homedale and many think that this is the team to beat, but they must go through Timberlake to get to the finals. Homedale is 18-4 and arguably faced the strongest competition during the regular season to get ready for this tournament. Homedale’s four losses all came to teams from the upper classifications, so they are battle tested and are my pick to win it all. Filer got to the tournament the hard way, winning a play-in game to make the field of eight.
Timberlake and Snake River will round out the first round of the tournament and this will be Snake River’s big chance to show up on the big stage and perform.
The Panthers have a solid one-two power punch from Abby Tew and Tatum Cherry. Cherry, in particular, has been on a roll with three homers in the final couple of weeks of play, and with her hitting the ball well and protecting Tew at the plate, it will be up to the table setters like Kenya Leavitt and the others to get on base for the big sticks that follow.
The key to the Panthers’ success may just come down to pitching and senior Anna Larsen has had a very good year, but the Panthers will only go as far as her right arm will carry them. Larsen will have to keep all of their opponents guessing and off the base paths. If she can do that, Larsen could carry her team all the way to the finals. It is always tough to single out three or four players as the keys to success, but in this case, it is probably the way that it will be.
In all, it should be a very good tournament and for those people who make the trip to Coeur d’Alene to watch, there will be some great games to see.
All of the action will get underway on Friday with games at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. with session two the same afternoon with games at 1, 3 and 5 p.m.
Saturday action will begin at 10 a.m. All of the action will take place at Ramsey Park.