Photo courtesy of Bryce Strand
Auburn Riverside fastpitch team wins state title.

Photo courtesy of Bryce Strand Auburn Riverside fastpitch team wins state title.

Auburn Riverside softball wins state championship

Ravens win first fastpitch title in school history.

Auburn Riverside High School’s fastpitch softball team has won state for the for the first time in school history with an 11-6 win over Snohomish on May 25 at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey.

The win signified a whole timeline of hard work and dedication for Head Coach Bryce Strand and assistant coach Matt Muxen. They began their efforts at Riverside 12 years ago, and now a dozen years later, stand on top of the state at the 3A level.

“To reflect on the extra supervision hours on fields, fundraising and all these other things that go into building a program to get to a state championship, let alone win one, it is so gratifying… Life isn’t a get rich quick scheme. Our program is proof it takes a long time to gradually get better,” Strand said.

Its an odd feeling for Strand — for the last 11 years, his season ended with a loss. But now, he ended with a win and is still chomping at the bit to keep playing.

“The natural order of things is at some point you lose to end your season. You cry and hug and talk about how great a season it was and what could have been. Then you kinda move on. When you win a championship, you kind of want to keep playing,” Strand said.

The road for Riverside through the course of the regular season was not all sunshine and rainbows. The Ravens had a daunting regular season. Strand had an intuition that his group this season could be special and had that intuition confirmed after the tough schedule.

“I thought in the back of my head we were talented enough to have a shot at it. Then by about early April, I had seen it from our defense, pitching and hitting, in different games. I told the girls if we put those things together, this is a team that could win state,” Strand said.

In the state tournament, the Ravens scored 64 runs over four games, averaging 16 runs a game. Against the best competition, the Ravens were on a historic pace. Since 2000, only one team before this year had scored over 50 runs in one tournament and won it — Lake Washington in 2022 had 51. But the Ravens blew that out of the water.

“It was amazing to me to how we played the best teams in the state, but same result as the regular season… It didn’t matter who the other team was. That was the staggering thing to me how good this team was,” Strand said.

The vibes always weren’t positive for the Ravens. They had looked like the team to beat a week earlier at the district tournament. But in the championship, the Ravens fell 8-6 to Prairie in the championship. “After that game there were some tears. … But to me it’s not about winning a district championship. … They just refocused and had a good week of practice. I was so confident after those practices, the girls were so locked in,” Strand said.

After a week of practice, the Ravens were back on track. A big reason for that was the pitcher in the circle, junior Danica Butler. She pitched in seven of the eight playoff games for the Ravens, allowing 20 earned runs across 40 innings.

“We tried to ramp her up physically as the season went on to prepare her for the state tournament and pitching back to back days,” Strand said.

She threw 258 pitches on the final day of the tournament, which is due in part to her offseason dedication.

“She really bought into our strength program. As the season went along, she just got stronger and really embraced it… She did a great job (mentally) learning how to flush bad results when the team needed her in the circle. That’s why as her season went on she got better and better,” Strand said.

The talk of the offense would be all in vain if not for bringing up Kaylee Walker. The Ravens’ slugging third baseman ended her career on an unbelievable run. She started off state on day one going 8-8 with five home runs and three doubles. Her senior season line was as follows: .578 BA, 48 H, 19 HR, 14 2B, 69 RBI.

“There is no way anybody has ever had a better day at any level than Kaylee on that Friday,” Strand said.

Her numbers are just ridiculous — she slugged 1.433, and had an OPS of 2.091. People don’t OPS over 2.000, that just doesn’t happen. She led the state in home runs and RBI and also was top 10 in slugging percentage, according to MaxPreps.

She was the driving force of the offense all year and the model of consistency along with a consistent offensive strategy in general.

“She treats every at-bat with the same approach. That is why our team never gets too high or too low because you always know what you’re going to get with our team. You might beat us and be better than us today, but you’re never going to have big swings,” Strand said.

Before the championship, the Ravens were tasked with the number one seed University in the semifinals, but that didn’t matter to Strand’s group. The Ravens rattled off 13 runs in the final three innings.

“We just kind of opened the barrage up… We just stuck with it and stuck with what we do. We didn’t panic, we don’t change anything. To see that payoff against a top three pitcher in 3A, it made me happy,” Strand said.

In the championship game against Snohomish, the Ravens fell behind 1-0 in the first inning. Senior Bailee Brader didn’t let the game get out of hand and hit a leadoff double, coming around to score to tie the game and settle the score.

“Bailee is just a believer in our system…Bailee didn’t have her best season offensively this year. But she really played her best in the big moments. Big Time Bailee… In the state tournament when the team needed her most, that’s where she delivered,” said Strand.

The Ravens’ offense kept at it and led 6-1 heading to the bottom of the fifth inning. A four-run fifth inning really was the difference in the game. In that inning, eight Ravens came to the plate and five recorded hits.

Seneca Aarstad took charge in the ballgame. She had a team high three hits in the finale. Of those three hits, one was a double, and another was a two-run homer.

Her homer in the seventh put the nail in the coffin, putting Auburn Riverside up 11-5. Unless there was an epic collapse, the Ravens were going to be state champions in large fashion.

After the final out was recorded, the state championship wasn’t for just the players and coaches.

“This was for all of those former players and parents and everybody who has been a part of our program. They have been important for getting our program to where it is today,” Strand said.

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Courtesy photo
Auburn Riverside fastpitch team wins state title.

Courtesy photo Auburn Riverside fastpitch team wins state title.

Auburn Riverside fastpitch team wins state title. Photo courtesy of Bryce Strand

Auburn Riverside fastpitch team wins state title. Photo courtesy of Bryce Strand

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