Mountaineers making progress despite depth, field challenges

Rainier softball enters spring break with a 3-2 record


Five games into the regular season, Rainier High School softball head coach Katie Qualls likes where the team is headed despite being dealt a tough hand. The Mountaineers have not been able to practice or play on their home field yet this season due to a drainage issue, and the program does not have a junior varsity team.

Rainier started the season 3-2, with three-straight wins over Cascade Christian, Mossyrock and North Thurston before falling to Raymond-South Bend and Tenino ahead of spring break.

“I think we’re good. We have things to work on. It’s a little bit hard with the circumstances of where we’re going to practice,” Qualls said. “If we could get more consistent weather, I’d be happier about it, but beggars can’t be choosers.”

Qualls said she was initially concerned about the team’s camaraderie given the lack of the JV team, but she said that aspect has been “amazing” and that the student athletes are having fun. She described the non-league contest against Tenino on Tuesday, March 26, as a test to see how her young players are progressing.

In the process, the Mountaineers nearly pulled off a stunning comeback against the Beavers, rallying from a 9-2 deficit in the fifth inning to tie the game in the sixth before Tenino pulled away in the final frame.

Qualls started her eighth-grade pitcher Gracie Lantz in the contest at Tenino High School, in which Rainier was technically the home team as the game was moved due to poor field conditions. In her first high school outing, Lantz faced eight batters, hitting four and allowing three hits.

“We decided to try something a little bit different and started Gracie. She didn’t have the best experience. She was having a hard time on their mound, and it was her first high school game pitching,” Qualls said of Lantz.

After Rainier put two runs on the scoreboard in the first inning, freshman ace Ryleigh Cruse replaced Lantz in the second in a bases-loaded, no-outs situation. Tenino scored eight runs in the inning, using a pair of RBI singles and Sophia Hussey’s grand slam to bolt in front, 8-2.

Tenino brought home its ninth run in the fifth inning, but Cruse escaped the frame without further damage.

“She adjusted well coming out of the bullpen. Sometimes kids are going to get hits off Ryleigh, and my point to the girls was that we just have to come with that same offense to support her,” Qualls said.

It took a while, but the Mountaineers did just that in the fifth inning. With two outs, Keira Anderson, whom Qualls described as “consistent, smart and reliable,” smacked an RBI double to pull Rainier within four, 9-5. Anderson leads the team in batting average (.526), slugging percentage (1.000), hits (10) and is responsible for 15 of the team’s 31 RBIs.

Cruse then stepped up to the plate and cranked a two-run home run over the left field fence to make it 9-7. Qualls said Cruse’s second blast of the season was hit in the same spot at the same field as her mother, Angie Cruse, once did when she played at Tenino High School.

“It was awesome. She was very excited. It’s great to see them getting relaxed and having the confidence to do that,” Qualls said of Cruse.

Cruse pitched out of another jam in the sixth to give the Mountaineers a chance to inch closer in the bottom of the frame. They tied the game at 9 thanks to a single, a trio of walks and a hit batter.

Despite battling through pain and the arduous mound, Cruse stayed in at pitcher in the seventh. But her command soured as she walked the first two batters of the frame. An infield error and a sacrifice groundout pushed the Beavers back in front, 11-9, but Cruse struck out the final batter to close the inning.

Carolyn Ferguson fueled a potential Mountaineers rally, knocking a double through the infield on a 3-2 count. Rainier couldn’t complete the comeback in the bottom of the seventh, falling 11-9 for its second loss of the year.

“I was really proud of them, to see the resilience, the heads being held high and them bringing each other up. The bottom of the lineup was really smart,” Qualls said. “We had a huge conversation about not letting the third strike go by without taking a cut, and I think everybody did that. Everybody worked really hard today. In my book, this is a win for this team.”

With league play approaching after spring break, Qualls noted that the Mountaineers are making positive strides despite concerns about their depth.

“Progress is being made, and everybody’s learning, especially with the newer kids. I’m happy with it,” she said.

Rainier returns to action with a home double header against Onalaska to kick off Central 2B League competition on Monday, April 8, with the first game set to start at 3 p.m. at Rainier Elementary School.