The road to the Class 4A state softball tournament was long and arduous for Redmond and particularly head coach Jackie Bloom, who took over the helm in 2006.
In her first season as coach, the team ran a perfect 16-0 record before losing a heartbreaking winner-to-state, loser-out game against Inglemoor, 2-0.
This year’s team also had its fair share of make-or-break moments, including three games during the 4A Kingco playoffs where Redmond’s season could have ended prematurely with a loss.
Each time, however, the team prevailed, and often in dramatic fashion.
Mustang fans in attendance will surely never forget junior Maria Reisinger’s walk-off RBI single to right field during Redmond’s thrilling come-from-behind victory against Juanita in the playoffs. Or the team’s seven-run offensive explosion in extra innings during the Mustangs’ 12-8 winner-to-state, pigtail game against Evergreen, sealing the program’s first trip to state in the fastpitch era of girls’ softball at Redmond.
The resilience and heart that the Mustangs showed in overcoming the adversity of losing their starting pitcher, grinding through the playoffs and making their incredible third-place run at the state tournament has earned them Redmond Reporter Team of the Year honors.
Bloom believes that Redmond’s ability to finally break through in 2008 as opposed to years past is due to the fact that the added pressure and expectations of a 16-0 team with a bunch of star players simply wasn’t there.
“In previous years we had a really strong team and felt kinda entitled to (going to state), because of our high talent level,” Bloom said. “This year, especially after Jessica (Rakonza) got hurt, we were thinking, ‘there’s no way we can get to state,’ so we all dropped back.”
The injury to Columbia University-bound senior Rakonza, a stress fracture in her throwing arm, left the Mustangs with only one true pitcher in junior Erika Hendron, who pitched well in her first three starts of the season but did not receive one run of offensive support.
All of a sudden, the tough-luck ‘Stangs were holding a record of 8-6 and had their backs to the wall.
“The girls really stepped it up and put everything together — bats, defense and offense,” said Bloom of her team as they started to make a charge for the playoffs in late April.
After Rakonza went down with the injury, the Mustangs lost three straight games. But Redmond bounced back to win four of the their last five, outscoring their opponents 22-4 in the four wins, and earned a spot in the 4A Kingco playoffs. Little did the Mustangs know that in two short weeks they would not only be playing in Tacoma, but only two wins away from capturing the state championship, due to dominating pitching by Hendron and an offense that, as Bloom said, “peaked at the right time.”
A TEAM EFFORT
According to Bloom, a lot of great high school softball teams get away with having only one ace, but having both Hendron and Rakonza turned out to be a lifesaver for the Mustangs’ season.
“It definitely threw us back a little and forced us to change our lineup, but in the end we adapted really well to it,” the third-year coach said of losing Rakonza. “We were blessed to have two amazing pitchers.”
Redmond’s effort this year on the field would classify as the true definition of a “team,” with no real offensive superstars but a lot of depth and every player doing their part.
“Everyone on the team contributed, everyone helped out,” Bloom said. “They all really played well together. It wasn’t really about the coaching this year but a lot of perserverance. The girls stayed with it.”
Even the sophomore girls on the roster that did not get to play in the postseason — Charlotte Abrams, Channel Cogan, Joanna French, Elise Adams and Taylor Adams — did their part as team cheerleaders.
“The girls that didn’t have much playing time, helped with things like warmups and getting balls out,” Bloom recalled. “When we went to state, one of our players forgot her game bag… and we had one of the girls literally give the cleats off her own feet so she could play.”
Graduating only two seniors this year in Rakonza and catcher Justine Bakker, the Mustangs will be returning a strong core of players and look to continue to be a threat at the state level.
Now that the 2008 season is officially in the books and the glistening third-place trophy back in Redmond High’s case, Bloom was especially appreciative of the efforts of all the parents, coaches and volunteers that supported her team from the first pitch to the final out of the season.
“I’d like to thank Greg Bateman, who manages the Web site and takes photos, and Amy Mullins, our “team mom” who’s always running errands and being our personal driver,” Bloom said. “We also could not have done it without the parents, who were great and supportive, our booster club members, and alumni,” Bloom said.
“They love Redmond softball.”