Review staff writer
Over the course of a four-day trip to California during Spring Break, the softball team notched a 7-1 record after competing against three teams ranked in the NCAA Division III top 25.
The ’Cats averaged more than 10 runs per game as the crisp, cohesive play from the first half of the Northwest Conference season carried momentum into the games on the road.
Linfield boosted its record to 22-2 overall, holding on to first place in the NWC and its status as a national powerhouse. The ’Cats were ranked No. 4 in the March 31 National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll, according to www.nfca.org.
Linfield will try to continue its dominant play when it hosts a doubleheader against George Fox University on April 5 before traveling to Lewis & Clark College on April 6 to close out the weekend. Both contests begin at noon.
The ’Cats dropped the opening game of the Sun West Tournament in Orange, Calif., on March 25, losing 1-2 to No. 16 Wellesley College.
Wellesley managed to hold Linfield’s battering offense to just two hits. The ’Cats’ defense stumbled, giving up three hits in the clutch, unable to get the final out.
The game-winning run for Wellesley came with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, when a runner on third reached home after an errant throw by junior pitcher Kendra Strahm.
“Wellesley’s pitcher kept us off balance, and we were a little overconfident going into the game,” head coach Jackson Vaughan said. “When you let a team hang around that long, it’s a wakeup call. We need to put teams away when we have the chance.”
It was the second loss for the team in 10 days. A 2-1 defeat came at the hands of Pacific Lutheran University on March 15.
“We went into it thinking we were going to beat them,” freshman catcher Emily Keagbine said. “Sometimes it’s good for us to lose; we realize we can’t just show up and expect to win.”
Linfield recovered quickly, racking up a 12-0 defeat of Williams College in the second game of the day.
Junior pitcher Brittany Miller led a 4-0 shutout of No. 15 Chapman University on March 26, pitching all seven innings and striking out nine batters.
In the second game, Elmhurst College caught the ’Cats off guard, scoring eight runs with Strahm pitching. Down 8-2 after one inning of play, Linfield was able to battle back, racking up 18 hits and 16 runs in the game.
“We have a lot of fight in us,” Keagbine said. “We don’t give up.”
Senior second baseman Jenny Marshall tied a single-game school record, scoring five runs in the slugfest to wrap up play in the non-elimination tournament.
A series of two doubleheaders in Redlands, Calif., on March 27 and 28 proved just as successful.
California State University East Bay withered under the power of the Linfield offense. The ’Cats won both games in five innings, knocking off East Bay, 14-1 and 20-0.
Miller said it can be difficult to maintain intensity in those blowout games, but it gives the team a chance to use the depth of its roster.
Nineteen players got a chance to play in the second game, including many who usually don’t get much time, Miller said.
On their final day in California, the ’Cats faced No. 5 University of Redlands, a team they beat twice during tournament play in 2007. Redlands was unable to stop the momentum Linfield gained and the Bulldogs lost, 5-2. The ’Cats held them to just three hits.
“I think having played Redlands and Chapman gave us a view of some better competition,” Miller said. “Our bats really woke up, and I think this is a turning point in the season.”
Linfield closed out its trip to California with a 10-1 victory over La Sierra University. Senior Center fielder Stephanie Rice scored two runs on four hits as the ’Cats’ offense finished the game with an overpowering .500 batting average.
Miller said the eight-game road trip brought out the best in the team.
“It was a big step up in competition,” she said. “We all got very hyped up. We performed how we knew we were capable, and it’s still going to get better.”