Federal Way High School softball was supposed to lay down and surrender.
A couple of weeks before the season started, the Eagles lost their best player and senior leader Tally Thomas for the season to knee and torn rotator cuff injuries. This seemed to set off a chain reaction. Two other seniors decided to follow Thomas and not return, and then their coach decided to resign from the program.
Terry Mateus, a volunteer assistant coach in 2016, took a late phone call from Federal Way athletic director John Yellam and accepted the job. He struggled to find enough players to tryout, let alone field a team. Yet, through it all, Mateus and his band of players won eight games. It was enough to allow Federal Way to compete in a district tournament playoff game.
Behind an inspiring game-tying home run and an RBI single from Chaella Galapon, the Eagles beat the Olympia Bears 6-3 on Tuesday at Curtis High School.
Federal Way moves on to face Auburn Mountainview at 11 a.m. Friday at the Kent Service Club.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these girls,” Mateus said. “They’ve been through a lot this year, but I think it’s been to our benefit. This season and this run has been all them.”
Upon taking over the team, Mateus and assistant coach Michelle Clark sat down and asked the 13 players their goals for the upcoming season.
The girls told the coaches they just wanted to beat their inner-city rivals. Realistically, they told Mateus and Clark, if they just won one game and played competitively in the others, they would consider the season a success.
“The goal was to win one game,” Mateus said. “Michelle and I knew they were capable of playing winning softball, but, at that time, no one really knew what we were going to do after everything that happened.”
The obstacles didn’t end before the season started. They were just beginning. Over the course of the season, injuries set in. Federal Way’s numbers dipped from 13 to 12 and then 10. Then the roster got as low as nine.
The team had already suffered enough. The girls weren’t about to let some bumps and bruises get them down. When the roster was reduced to nine, team leaders Payten Hurn, Jody Scanson and Melissa Mateus coined the team “The Nasty Nine.”
When they got a body back they became “The Tenacious Ten.”
The little fun Federal Way could muster during this stretch helped it secure wins over Todd Beamer, Thomas Jefferson and Decatur.
“It was cool,” Terry Mateus said. “The situation wasn’t ideal, but this group took yet another bad situation and embraced it, had fun with it and created an identity out of it.”
The Eagles went on to win three of their last five games, helping secure its postseason game with the Olympia Bears.
As it has all season, Federal Way was forced to overcome immediately after the Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Hurn’s RBI force out made it 2-1 in the bottom of the second inning.
The Eagles seized the lead for good in the bottom of the third. Galapon tied it with a third-pitch leadoff home run. Cassandra Wright followed with a double and later scored on a deep sacrifice fly from Hannah Blackmon.
Federal Way added three more in the bottom of the sixth as Melissa Mateus and Galapon delivered with one-out RBI hits. Eagle starting pitcher Rebecca Rennick threw a complete game, striking out three, giving up three runs and walking four.
“She was the leader out there for us,” Terry Mateus said. “She knew what this game meant. She wasn’t nervous, just locked in.”
Federal Way now has the tough task of facing Auburn Mountainview.
The Eagles lost both meetings to the Lions this season and were outscored 31-4.
The last time Federal Way faced the Lions was on April 26.
The Eagles struggled to find hits and baserunners in the loss against of the North Puget Sound League’s best pitchers in Zoe Collins.
Collins held Federal Way to six hits, but this time around, the Eagles were able to score two runs off of her in innings three and four. And it was Melissa Mateus, Cassandra Wright and Hannah Togia who led the charge in the Eagles’ comeback attempt.
Federal Way will likely see Collins again in Friday’s game.
Mateus said his nasty, tenacious group doesn’t plan on following expectations, however. Federal Way’s not going to lay down, and it’s not going to surrender.
He expects the Eagles to do exactly what they’ve done all season.
“Just go out there and have fun,” Terry Mateus said. “Better yet, after all we’ve gone through, make it clear [to Auburn Mountainview] you’re having the most fun you’ve had all season.”