HERMISTON - The Columbia Storm 18A?ASA softball team has no doubt they will face the best the Northwest has to offer this weekend when they play in the national qualifier tournament in Salem starting Saturday.
The Storm, which is made of girls from Hermiston, Pendleton and Irrigon, also has no doubt they are among the best the 18-team field has to offer.
The Storm recently played in the Hillsboro Tournament and fared the best of any of the locally based fast pitch teams, finishing in second place to Willamette.
The girls went 2-0-1 in pool play Saturday to come out of their pool in the top seed.
After an opening-round loss in Sunday's bracket, the Storm rallied for three wins to set up a rematch with Willamette Valley in the finals.
Though the Storm had won the first game 2-1, Willamette came into the championship fresh off their semifinal win while Columbia had to wait a few hours.
Coach Saul Castro said that might have caused their bats to go cold in the 4-1 loss.
Irrigon's Noelle Wright pitched all eight games for the Storm while fellow Knights Jessica Henrichs and Ariel Schock and Pendleton's Shanna Treloar, Sam Lyons and Angel Villalobos provided steady bats.
Castro said his team had a productive week of practice headed into the national qualifier, where a top-three finish would earn them a berth in the national tournament in Las Vegas on July 26-August 2.
He explained there is a little more incentive for his girls this year, since they will actually be able to attend the national tournament opposed to past years where it has been too far away to make the trip.
"This year we're hoping we can make it and go on,"?he said. "In the past we've played at the national qualifiers because that's where the good competition is."
He said it looks like they'll need to win as many as six games in the double elimination format.
Should the Storm not qualify for the national tournament this weekend they'll have another shot at the state championships on 4th of July weekend where just the champion advances.
Castro said he likes his team's chances this summer.
"I feel we have a great group of girls who know how to play and work hard," he said.