The softball team opened regional tournament play at Central College in Pella, Iowa with a 10-0, six-inning win against Anderson University on May 12. Senior pitcher Claire Velaski held the ’Cats’ opponent to one hit and struck out six batters.
Three ’Cats hit home runs including junior outfielder Jaydee Baxter, juniors first baseman Staci Doucette and catcher Emilee Lepp who brought her season total to 28 home runs.
This game brings the end nearer for five senior softball players. With just the regional and national tournaments left, these players will say goodbye not just to Linfield, but to Wildcat softball as well.
Head coach Jackson Vaughan said this group of girls was essential to maintaining a strong program after 2007’s national championship-winning team.
“They really helped in the transition from our 2007 championship team and were highly involved in keeping the program at a high level,” he said.
He added that this group has more than just skills on the field.
“They’ve always done things the right way on the field and in the classroom and the bonus has been that they are great players,” Vaughan said.
Senior shortstop Emily Keagbine hit 16 home runs this season with a .455 batting average. She finished third place in the Northwest Conference in both categories behind her teammates Lepp and Doucette. However, Vaughan commented on more than just her offensive power.
“She brings an element of fun but is also very competitive,” he said. “She’s very talented defensively and is someone who loves the game.”
Keagbine’s performance throughout the season earned her a spot on the all-Northwest Conference first team.
Velaski has led the ’Cats’ pitching staff for two years. Her 19-1 record, including eight complete games with two shut-outs, 106 strikeouts and 2.00 ERA led her to receive a first team all-Northwest Conference selection this year.
Vaughan said she is reliable, hard working and a great teammate.
Velaski talked about what softball has meant to her.
“Having a group of people that are there with you through success, heartbreak and pain is something you don’t get in a lot of places,” she said. “I am going to remember everyone’s hard work, effort and the time they committed this year.”
Fellow pitcher, senior Elise Karscig also commented on the team’s dedication and success.
“Everyone has been really motivated throughout the whole year,” she said. “I will remember how well we did this year only losing two games, and that we never really backed down throughout the season.”
Karscig made four appearances on the mound this year, one of which concluded with a memorable complete game shutout on Senior Day against Pacific University.
“She is super team-oriented and a great supporter. She is always there to take care of everybody,” Vaughan said about Karscig.
Senior outfielder Kayla Hubrich joined Keagbine and Velaski on this year’s first all-NWC team. She led the team in stolen bases with 14 and led the NWC in triples with four. She was also second in the NWC in runs scored and hits behind Lepp in both categories.
“[Hubrich] is super hard working and gives her absolute best at everything she does, and she has improved a lot,” Vaughan said.
Hard work is something all the players are familiar with. Senior second baseman Alex Hartmann said that is one thing she will take away from her experiences in softball.
“The time we commit teaches you how to work hard and how to have good time management,” she said.
Hartmann earned her fourth all-NWC honor this year, nabbing a second team selection. Vaughan said she has been a key contributor during each of her four years as a Wildcat. This year she had 41 hits and 31 RBI with a .328 batting average.
The seniors weren’t the only Wildcats recognized in the all-NWC voting. Vaughan, who received the Coach of the Year award, and Lepp, who was voted Player of the Year, topped the list of recipients.
Doucette, junior outfielder Jaydee Baxter and sophomore third baseman Karleigh Prestianni were selected for first team honors. Junior pitcher Lauren Harvey joined Hartmann on the second team and freshman pitcher Karina Paavola rounded out the team’s selections with an honorable mention.
In addition, six players were selected for the 2011 Division III All-West Region first team. This included Prestianni, Lepp, Doucette, Hubrich, Keagbine and Velaski.
Besides hard work, Velaski, Karscig and Hartmann all agreed on the mentality that the team is taking into the regional tournament.
“It’s out there for any team to win, but we just have to be aggressive and put everything we have done over the past four months out on the field and take it,” Hartmann said.
The ’Cats’ next opponent is Washington University in St. Louis, the same team the Wildcats defeated in the national championship in 2007. The game will take place at 2 p.m. on May 13 at Central College in Pella, Iowa.
Rae Smith/Staff reporter
Rae Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.