Hey ‘Cats. Now that it’s March, spring sports are in full swing. However, the season picture is starting to take shape more clearly for some sports than others. The softball program’s title defense is going well but not without hiccups, while the baseball team seems to be sliding into inconsistent habits that question their lofty rise to No. 2 in the nation only a short while ago.
It’s no secret that the softball program has risen to new heights in the last year, starting with a slew of NCAA records and ending with a new national championship trophy in the display case and a matching placard in the adjoining hall in the Ted Wilson Gymnasium.
However, one extraordinary record just fell out of their reach on Sunday: the nation’s first undefeated season since 1995.
Catball had yet to drop a contest this season until they got down early to Pacific Lutheran University and ended up losing 9-5; given that nearly all of their games have ended after only five innings because of the mercy rule, you folks were probably as surprised as I was by a four-run margin of defeat.
To be fair, an undefeated season in 2012 might have been the most impressive achievement in the history of Oregon sports. In 1995, the season only consisted of 15 games. If Linfield had gone undefeated this season, they would have played in and won more than three times that many games. And to be completely honest, no matter how good this team is, a 45-50 game winning streak would have been unprecedented, so losing out on this one really isn’t indicative of how this team will fare in the long run.
Senior slugger Emilee Lepp going 0-4 at the plate was a bit concerning though. Shutting down this team’s top hitter is a sure-fire way to make games against the ’Cats a lot closer.
I wish I could say things were going as picture-perfect for the baseball team, but lately a few puzzling losses have left me scratching my head and wondering if this year’s team might have been more than a little over hyped in the preseason.
After starting the year at a red-hot 6-1, the team has gone 2-3 in their last five games. Two of those losses were to 6-9 Pacific and one to woeful 4-12 Willamette, teams that this highly touted Linfield group had no business losing against. Earlier in the season they escaped an embarrassing loss against 2-14 Lewis & Clark on a ninth-inning run.
Are the teams at the bottom of the NWC playing better ball than their terrible records suggest, or did Linfield just stumble big time? I hate to say it, but I’m inclined to lean towards the latter, the NWC isn’t exactly the deepest conference in the country.
The slide has left the ’Cats at 6-3 in conference play and second place in the NWC behind 4-1 Pacific Lutheran. Thankfully, the ’Cats have only fallen as far as No. 5 nationally. However, if losses like these continue, that national ranking isn’t going to stay so high and this extremely loaded team that on paper looks like a national title contender is going to have a lot of questions to answer in the off-season.
On a brighter note, here’s a shout-out to Linfield pole vaulter Catherine Street, who finally captured a national title in the event that she has otherwise owned nationally for the past four years.
Street is only the third female track and field athlete in Linfield history to own in individual national championship.
In the last four years, Street has run up an impressive list of achievements, including four All-American team selections, the West Region’s female field athlete of the year and the Division-III record for indoor pole vault. A national title is a nice feather to add to her cap and almost certainly cements her place as a future Linfield athletics hall of famer.
One more parting shot on the women’s side of things: the tennis team is playing out-of-their-mind good this season and sports a 7-0 record, all of which came in conference play. Sister sensations Kiana and Kaila Nip are 7-0 in doubles play and also have yet to lose in singles play. The program nabbed an NCAA tournament berth last year but lost in the opening round; could this be a team primed for a playoff run?
The team isn’t nationally ranked, but don’t count them out on that alone. This is a talented team with some unfinished business, and that can go a long way come playoff time.
Chris Forrer/Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.