Jessica Cabato has been connected to the game of softball for a long time — from her days as a star at Central Kitsap High School to her coaching stops at Olympic College, South Kitsap and now Olympic High School.
As a coach, she always has high expectations for her teams. But it would not have surprised her, or anyone else, if the Trojans at some point had to take the hard road through the left side of the bracket to the 2A state tournament.
Instead, Olympic erased a 5-1 deficit against White River, beating the Hornets, 7-6, in its first game and then trounced Lindbergh, 8-1, to clinch their spot.
Following the Lindbergh win, Cabato — a woman blessed with the gift of gab — was stunned. During our postgame conversation, she had trouble properly putting into words what had just transpired and we had a good laugh about it the following day after Olympic beat North Kitsap to take third.
“I left that yesterday thinking, ‘I actually said nothing. I had nothing to contribute to that conversation,’” Cabato said.
Welcome to the world of high-school playoffs. Cabato’s Trojans weren’t the only surprise this spring, though they certainly were compelling.
After losing four of her six best hitters to graduation — including her daughter Kaira — they went 7-5 in the Olympic League, a run that included the high of a late March victory over Port Angeles as well as the low of an 18-10 loss May 1 to Bremerton.
But they still finished fourth and qualified for the district tournament, gliding on to state, where they went 0-2, exactly where they finished last year with largely a new crop of players behind varsity veterans Molly Gates, Sadie Chipley, Alannah Mitchell and Morgan Kroesser.
Taking a closer look at how things played out, there were surprises in several other brackets.
The South Kitsap baseball team beat Olympia twice during the regular season. One game was a high-scoring 12-11 win at Elton Goodwin Field in which four home runs were hit, and the other a 9-1 blowout. South Kitsap finished tied for first in the SPSL, while Olympia was fourth.
Yet it was the Bears who knocked off Class 4A state semifinalist Federal Way last year and then turned the tables on Issaquah to reach the championship game despite not getting their first hit until there were two outs left in the game.
In the 3A baseball tournament, both Gig Harbor and Capital reached the state semifinals and lost to meet in the third- and fourth-place game.
Capital finished with a 7-7 record in the South Sound Conference and could have easily missed the playoffs entirely, finishing just one game ahead of Central Kitsap. When the two teams tangled late in the season, Capital won the first game by two runs, the second by one.
One more hit allowed, one wild pitch and one bad bounce against them, and the fourth-place team could have sat out the postseason completely.
Instead, the Cougars easily bested Mercer Island and Mountain View in the first two rounds of the state tournament before losing 3-0 to O’Dea.
Even the Class 2A baseball tournament could have gone any number of ways.
North Kitsap played eventual champion Selah in the first round and lost 4-1. Players and coaches alike praised Selah’s clean play and ability to avoid mistakes and errors, a virtue that cannot be underestimated in a single-elimination tournament.
But there wasn’t a sense that Selah could simply overpower teams on its way to a title. Like so many other games, that match came down to a few simple plays.
“That was a tough game,” North Kitsap catcher Kyle Green said. “A few things, they could have gone either way, but they were a good team. They did everything right.”
Selah’s state championship opponent was Fife, a team that lost to Port Angeles, 3-2, in the district championship game and then played a one-run game against Liberty — which beat North Mason by one run in extra innings — and won 2-0 over Sehome, which knocked off the Roughriders in the first round by a single run.
The unpredictability of the postseason is why we tune in. It’s the reason we pay the admission and take trips across the Cascades to see our hometown teams in action. It’s the reason we always root for the home team. Because on any given day, anything can happen.
And occasionally, we get to see things that leave us speechless.
— Mark Krulish covers sports for Kitsap News Group and Kitsap Daily News. He can be contacted at mkrulish@soundpublish ing.com. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.