Take a breath. Smile. You’ve earned it.

For the first time in two years, the state softball tournament is here. Last season may have been lost to the coronavirus pandemic, but softball is back, and we’ve nearly completed the season. That means it’s time for state.

The tournament is set for Friday and Saturday at locations around the Boise area. District 6 has teams from 5A to 2A competing. Let’s take a look at three things to watch for and why they matter.

A young West Jefferson team is ready to capture its first state hardware

West Jefferson has piled up quite a season so far: A 20-2 overall record, a 2A District 6 tournament title and a fourth straight trip to the 2A state tournament.

Still, in that stretch — and in the program’s entire history — the Panthers have never returned with hardware. They went 1-2 in 2018 and took third in 2019, but they’ve never brought a trophy back to Terreton. The closest West Jefferson has come was that third-place finish two years ago.

If there was ever a year for the team to snap that streak, this might be it.

The Panthers may be young, but they’re experienced. There’s a difference, head coach Raquel Torgerson explained. Madi Pancheri and Trinity Smith are the only players with state experience, but most everyone else has racked up time playing in summer tournaments — seven last year alone, Torgerson estimated — with traveling teams.

“I think we have experience for tournaments,” Torgerson said. “There shouldn’t be a reason why they’re not prepared to play in a tournament. That’s how I feel. I think Madi is a leader — her batting, her fielding, her confidence. She definitely is a great leader on our field.”

It’s important to note that of the six Panthers who played in summer tournaments last season, one is Torgerson’s daughter, Jordyn, the team’s ace and an important piece at the plate.

If West Jefferson makes noise at state, part of the reason will likely be Jordyn Torgerson, who has given her team a chance to win every time she’s taken the circle this season. She’s never been in this position — she’s a sophomore, so this is effectively her debut season at West Jefferson — but the good news for her is that most of her teammates can relate.

West Jefferson gets Nampa Christian at 11 a.m. Saturday at West Park in Nampa.

“She is the person we rely on 97% of the time,” Raquel Torgerson said of Jordyn. “She knows what she’s got to do for her team, and I think she’s prepared for it.”

Thunder Ridge is making its state debut — thanks in part to a freshman pitcher

When you peel back the layers on how Thunder Ridge advanced to the 5A state tournament for the first time in the school’s three-year history, eventually, you land on the page titled Kaliann Scoresby.

As far as freshman pitching seasons go, Scoresby is delivering one to remember. In the circle, she’s been nails. Just last week, in Thunder Ridge’s district semifinal win over Idaho Falls, she struck out 11, giving her offense a comfortable cushion to work with.

The important part is that has become a theme this season for Thunder Ridge (18-7). Earlier this month, in a 12-1 win over Rigby, Scoresby struck out seven across five innings, allowing just one run on six hits. In her previous start, she fanned 10, issued just two walks and permitted one run on three hits.

Scoresby pairs well with Trysta Hoffman, Thunder Ridge’s other starter. Together, they’ve kept the Titans in most every game they’ve played this season. They won’t enter on the hottest of notes — Thunder Ridge dropped two games to Highland in last week’s 5A District 5/6 tournament — but they will enter the state tournament.

For a team in its third season — second full one, thanks to the canceled 2020 campaign — that amounts to an impressive season.

Thunder Ridge will open with a first-round matchup against Timberline, set for 11 a.m. Friday at Mountain View.

Newly minted South Fremont coach Kris Hammond is taking the Cougars to familiar heightsPart of what makes Kris Hammond’s debut season with South Fremont softball so interesting is that it’s not his first season, not exactly. He took over last season, which was almost entirely wiped out by the pandemic, and that means this is his first chance to gel with his new team.

So far, he’s come up aces. The Cougars will enter 9-13 overall, but their last two wins may have been the most important. In the first round of the 3A District 6 tournament, South Fremont clipped Sugar-Salem, 14-13, and in the title game, the Cougars eked by the Diggers again, this time 15-14.

In that first meeting at districts, South Fremont used a six-run seventh inning to earn a walk-off win, capped by Nicole Powell’s walk-off single.

In fact, Powell has keyed her team’s run to this point. A senior captain, Powell is hitting a blistering .519 this year, and she sports a .578 on-base percentage, both of which are team bests.

“She’s done a great job with being team-first,” Hammond said. “A few weeks ago, we needed to make a change, so we moved Nicole over to be our starting catcher, and she’s been willing to do that with a smile on her face.”

Hammond speaks highly of Powell, but the truth is that the Cougars are at state for the third straight year in large part because they’ve bought into Hammond’s philosophy, which revolves around a team-first approach. Stay resilient, Hammond likes to say. Never say die.

South Fremont will get its next chance to apply those lessons in its 3A state opener against Bonners Ferry, scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at Timberline.

“Being team-first, being gritty, being the team that’s going to work hard with everything we do,” Hammond said of his coaching style. “Being a team that’s aggressive with how we play, being a team that’s going to put a lot of pressure on other teams. That’s been a lot of what we’ve been working on.”

Greg Woods is a sports reporter at the Post Register. Reach him 208-542-6772 and follow him on Twitter at GregWWoods.

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