One less team in Cowapa League softball could make for some big changes at the top of the league standings in 2019.
In this case, all those teams that have been finishing third, fourth, fifth and sixth — will all move up one or possibly two spots in the final standings.
League power Scappoose is gone, as the defending Cowapa champions have moved to the Class 5A Northwest Conference. Valley Catholic is also gone (the Valiants are not fielding a team this year), resulting in just a four-team league. Teams will play each other four times.
For years, the battle for first place in the Cowapa League would usually come down to Banks and Scappoose. The league is now holding auditions on who will join the Braves at the top, and the likely candidate is Astoria, which currently has a string of three straight third-place finishes behind Banks and Scappoose.
The Lady Fishermen took third behind Scappoose and Banks last season with a 9-6 record. Tillamook was a distant fourth at 4-11.
In 2017, Banks was the league champ, followed by Scappoose and Astoria.
And the Fishermen were third in 2016, again behind Banks and Scappoose. Tillamook and Seaside tied for a distant fourth at 4-11.
It’s pretty clear which two teams will battle for the league title in 2019.
This could be the year the Astoria Lady Fishermen finally overtake the Braves of Banks.
“You never know with the Cowapa League,” said Astoria coach Kent Israel, Jr. “Obviously Banks is Banks. They didn’t lose much. I know they’re going to have pitching. They always do.”
But Astoria does, too. Possibly more.
“The way Julia (Norris) is looking and the way she’s pitching, if we can get in there and hit the ball, I think we can give Banks a run,” Israel said.
Heading into league play, Astoria had the better record (6-1) and the higher ranking (No. 8), while the Braves were 5-4, ranked 12th.
Seaside and Tillamook will battle for third, and hope to pull off an upset or two.
It starts with pitching in softball, and Norris — only a junior — was nearly untouchable in nonleague play. Her battery mate, junior Kayla Helligso, is the best catcher in the Cowapa League, with a strong arm and home run power.
Norris has taken a “step up, pitching-wise,” Israel said. “She’s throwing the ball really good, a little bit harder. She’s definitely going to be a major part.
And Kayla is a year older and looking good at catcher.”
The infield is equally strong, anchored by junior Hailey O’Brien. The only two seniors on the team are infielders Jenna Barendse and Lexi Lyngstad.
The junior class also includes Emma Graham and Haley Norman, and Astoria’s future seems set with a sophomore group that has Emma Biederman, Madison Both, Halle Helmersen and Shelby Rasmussen.
Biederman could serve as a No. 2 pitcher, and Rasmussen missed some of the nonleague games with a knee injury.
The freshmen also can — and will — play, with Emilee Carlson, Tenley Matteucci and Mollie Matthews, who recently hit a home run in the Seaside tournament.
“We’re young,” Israel said. “We lost McKailyn (Rogers), but we have Emma Biederman, a sophomore who can step right in and be our No. 2 pitcher. Carlson is a freshman and a good pitcher, and Matteucci can pitch. So we have some pitching.
“The young girls are pretty fast and athletic. We should be just fine. It might take us a little while to gel, but once we get everything together, we’re going to have a tough little team.”
Prediction: After outscoring the opposition 70-7 in the preseason, it’s hard to see Astoria losing many games. League champions.
Coach: Kent Israel, Jr., 4th year
2018: 10-14 (9-6 league)
Playoffs: Lost play-in at Elmira, 8-4.
Key losses: Brooklynn Hankwitz, Hailey Ranta, McKailyn Rogers.
Key returners: Jenna Barendse, Kayla Helligso, Julia Norris, Hailey O’Brien.