Mental toughness will make or break softball

I hate to say I told you so. I really do. But unfortunately, Pacific Lutheran handed the Linfield softball team two more home losses and broke an eight-year streak of Northwest Conference titles. In both cases, PLU’s pitching unit was just too much for the ’Cats to overcome. Just as I wrote about last week, we seem to be unable to beat them at home.

I was informed of the first defeat Saturday night by a friend of mine, Walt Haight, husband of Linfield professor Dawn Graff-Haight. I shook my head, saying, Well, I guess I’ve got my column for tomorrow. PLU has just got its number this season. Walt looked at me and, with a grin, asked, why? Why do they have their number? Is it pitching? Hitting? I couldn’t answer. There’s your angle, he told me.

Well Walt, when you’re right you’re right. I looked at the box scores of all three defeats and it took time to find any consistent pattern. In the first PLU loss this season, the Lutes piled it on
early and then late to out-score the ‘Cats. In the second, it took until the seventh-inning for PLU to find a six-run outburst to bury Linfield. This time, two close games came down to the final inning and Catball just couldn’t come from behind a 3-0 deficit late.

I’ll admit that I’m not the best at reading softball box scores, but I did eventually manage to find my answer for Walt. In three losses to PLU before Sunday, the ’Cats were averaging 3.3 errors per game opposed to their overall season average of 0.7. That’s a staggering 2.6 errors more against one opponent! And in the NWC match on Saturday, all three of the Lutes’ runs were scored on Linfield errors.

It’s clear to me now that the answer to Linfield’s PLU struggles is 100 percent in the mind. The Lutes have gotten into Catball’s head and shaken the mental toughness that was so key in last season’s championship run. The grit, the focus, the mental fortitude has been rattled by a pair of come-from-behind home losses to a dangerous team in March.

What I saw from PLU this weekend was swagger. They oozed confidence and looked like they were salivating at a chance to send the ’Cats packing in their own house. It looked familiar; it looked like us last season. And they rode that confidence straight to the house for a 3-1 record against Linfield in the NWC tourney.

Here’s the thing though. Sandwiched between these two heartbreaking PLU losses were two impressive wins. A tough 4-2 victory over Willamette was followed by a cardiac-inducing, come-from-behind thriller over the Lutes in which Catball scored the tying and winning runs on their last out in the bottom of the seventh.

When I got to the field at the bottom of the sixth, you could have heard a pin drop in Del Smith Stadium. It was utterly lifeless in the dugout and stands, at least among those wearing purple. It was the first time I’d ever seen this team truly scared.

But by the end of the game, a complete change had come over the Wildcats. They were scrapping, fighting and struggling with every ounce of their ability. The focus was back. The mental toughness, the grit, was back, and the result was a victory for the ages. Sadly, it didn’t take more than two hours for PLU’s bullpen to pitch it back into submission.

Honestly, this loss doesn’t really matter in the scope of a playoff bid. They may have lost the NWC and this may hurt like hell, but they’re going, and that really hasn’t ever been in question. But if this loaded team with title aspirations wants to hoist the D-III title trophy for a second year in a row, they’re going to need to find that mental toughness and focus from last year and hold onto it for dear life. Catch the seventh inning of Sunday’s first PLU game in a bottle and drink it before every contest. Otherwise, it’s going to be a short post-season for Catball this spring.

Chris Forrer/
Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at

8 Comments on Mental toughness will make or break softball

  1. Tyson Takeuchi // April 25, 2012 at 9:47 am //

    To Whom this may concern:

    I do not believe that there is a mental toughness issue on the part of CatBall. They work hard together, and they work through their struggles. They’ve replaced 3 key positions this year (2nd, short, and left field) and had to have set up their offense in a new fashion. I don’t know how many softball games you’ve been to but coach Jackson has been working hard to tweak and fine tune his line up to get the perfect balance of power and consistency.

    They cheer each other on, and the women on the team work hard to keep focused. How can you say such a thing about a team that you may not even know that much about.

    Also, you have failed to mention Linfield’s wins at PLU with a score of 7-6 and 8-0. According to you PLU “oozed confidence and had swagger,” but then why did they lose on their own home field? Riddle me that. A team should be more confident at home, and according to you a swagger’ed out team should do well anywhere, but they lost at home.

    Softball, and as well as baseball is a sport that is won if everyone and every team member is spot on, and sadly the women of Catball just weren’t on. Everyone has off days, and it just came at a bad time for CatBall. They fought all the way through, and I could see that they tried their hardest. They continued to cheer, maybe not as loud, but they did. The loss of a starting 2nd baseman also came at a tough time. When you lose something that is a strategic part of the game it’s hard to stay focused and keep the momentum going.

    I think that this article needs to be re-evaluated at somewhat even re-stated. Even though this is an opinion and nothing will change, I want you to think about your comments, and how demoralizing this really was to the women of CatBall.

  2. catball love // April 25, 2012 at 8:25 pm //

    Dear Chris,
    Catball did not break it’s streak of NWC conference championships. They won the league during the regular season which gets them the NWC title. The conference tournament is a new concept in the last two seasons and is not the determining factor for crowing a champion. Yes PLU is the NWC Tournament champion, but Catball is the NWC league Champion for the 9th consecutive year. You can bet these ladies are going to come out fighting in the playoffs and are working to get everything going in the right direction again. Catball has mental toughness, and I believe they showed that by battling in some of those hard games. This might not be the dominating power that they showed in last year’s title run but this team is tough, and will fight through whateve block is in the way and sticks together no matter what. Because that’s what Catball is all about AS ONE.

  3. Zack Hickman // April 25, 2012 at 8:37 pm //

    Well well, another article in our very own Linfield Review bad mouthing our own sports team. Great article, I really love the part about PLU having swagger and our own lady cats not being “mentally tough enough” to compare. I really hope the review keeps publishing articles such as this, bad mouthing our teams and our school as a whole. I mean, what is a good student newspaper for anyway, right? Oh yeah, its to highlight the accomplishments and high points of our school. Apparently the review hasn’t had time to figure this out. What little respect I had for this paper is now completely gone, and I’d be willing to bet I am not the only one.

  4. I don’t know who you think you are but this article is a load of crap. The linfield girls are some of the most mental tough girls I know. If you put half of what they put into softball, mentally and physically, into your article you probably could go somewhere writing but that’s clearly apparent you don’t. I also find it hard to read a article that is written by someone who doesn’t go to the games, so if you want to be the Mr. I told you so, you say you are try actually watching them because I’ll tell you that they have all the making of a strong championship team.
    Finally I would like to state that I thought this is a website for linfield college and where I go to school we back our sports teams so you might want to see if you really are a wildcat at heart or just some sport/ school hating so called article writer. I don’t even go there and I got more wildcat spirit than you.

    Thanks and have a great day, GO WILDCAT SOFTBALL!!!

  5. Kurtis Williams // April 25, 2012 at 9:40 pm //

    Haha I don’t really know where to start; the above group said it well but allow me to retort:

    As a recently graduated sports reporter and columnist, I have actually cultivated relationships with many of these gals. With your antics last year (followed by a national title I might add) and now this, I now don’t expect you to ever have that opportunity. I would tell the tram, as I’m sure Jackson has already, to never talk to you.

    It’s funny you mention you were there because I was at the first three and didn’t see you at all. No, you can’t tell what happened in a score box. Did you see the second baseman snap her arm? Did you see amazing catches and lasers from center? Did you see the PLU coach flipping out at her own players? Did you see the umpire in the Willamette game shrink the strike zone severely on Harvey in the first couple innings, forcing her to pitch over the plate? The answer is no and the fact you think you can get in their head from stat sheets is unbelievable and borderline demfamatory.

    You don’t know these girls, yet you analyze their psyche like you’re Dr. Phil. Let me try my hand at how your column should have gone:

    The Cats faced a tough weekend with five games in two days in unseasonably warm temperatures and the use of only three pitchers. Injury was added to the list of hardships after new second baseman Ashley Garcia nearly snapped her arm off covering a bunt at first (insert photo here). Despite a great, gutsy performance from not-so-often used pitcher Shelby VandeBergh, the Cats fell to the No. 5 team in the country.

    That might have been a better, more accurate column.

  6. Mike Hunt // April 25, 2012 at 10:24 pm //

    First an foremost, is this the Linfield student paper or the PLU one? it is truly sad and not to mention disrespectful that you would write something like this about your own team who just so happens to be the defending national champions. Second, lets take a look at your argument here about their mental toughness. Yes the cats have lost 4 critical games to PLU but hey have also won 3 , 2 of which were up there in Washington. Since when is going 3-4 (2-0 away) considered having a problem with mental toughness?
    I do acknowledge that the fielding errors are bad mental errors but they don’t necessarily mean there is a lack of mental toughness. Unless you would call throwing an INT or getting stripped a lack of mental toughness as well. As far as the hitting goes, Linfied has struggled to score especially when they are not hitting homeruns. Could it be the pitching? You could make an argument about that but the fact that they have hit PLU well in their own house suggests that the pitching is not a super big factor. A cold day at the plate (similar to their 2 hit game against Willamette) resulted in these losses.
    The fact of the matter is, it is just DOWN RIGHT DISRESPECTUFL of you to suggest that this team lacks mental toughness. They have played on the biggest stage and have come up successful, hence the national title.

  7. The Review // April 25, 2012 at 11:33 pm //

    To our readers,

    This comment is not meant to deter anyone from speaking their mind, it is merely to address peoples’ concerns that have been voiced here and on Facebook. We would also like to clarify certain points that have been mentioned.

    The Linfield Review would like to address some of the concerns and complaints about a sports column about the softball team that appeared in our most recent issue.

    First, we would like to clarify that a column is an opinion piece, not a sports/news article. A sports/news article strictly reports on the facts of the events that occurred, avoiding bias. A column reflects the personal opinion of that particular writer.

    Second, we would like to clarify that the function and purpose of any newspaper, student-run or not, is not to only highlight the good things happening in the community. The purpose of a newspaper is to report the facts of events and to allow writers and those in the community to voice their opinions. For instance, if a student is arrested it is our job to report that, even if it is one of our own. If a sports team loses, it is our job to report it. This holds true for students who are doing great things on campus and for all of the wins that our sports teams have captured this season.

    Third, the Review does not only write about negative things. Every week stories are written about our sports teams, many of which have had winning streaks this season. In addition, stories are written about students who are making a positive impact on campus and in our community, the front page story about Linfield alum, Joe Robinson, being a perfect example.

    Fourth, it would be unethical and unconstitutional to censor or make changes to a writer’s opinion. Everyone is entitled to freedom of speech and their own opinion. However, this does not mean that everyone has to agree with it, which the Review completely understands. The Review supports its staff members, but would never allow something libelous to be published.

    With all of this being said, it is never the Review’s intention to demoralize those in our community.

    In addition, we welcome all community members’ opinions through comments on our website and Facebook, as well as letters-to-the-editor.

    On a final note, a clarification will run for the softball story in next week’s issue regarding the NWC Championship and bids to regionals.

    Thank you for taking the time to voice your opinions and concerns

  8. Chris Forrer // April 26, 2012 at 12:01 am //

    Where to start…

    First of all, I was at those games watching from the fence as much as I could be. I saw the Willamette game, as well as the PLU comeback. I was asked to speak at a scholarship reception in Ford Hall that took up a sizable amount of time Sunday afternoon that removed me from watching much else.

    Second, it looks like everything I had an inkling about last year has proven true. You guys really don’t understand the purpose of journalism in any form, and that is truly sad for members of a private, liberal-arts college that prides itself on providing an excellent education.

    The Review does not exist to play cheerleader for it’s sports organizations regardless of the reality of a team’s situation. That wouldn’t be press; it would hardly be good writing in any form. This paper, like any other paper, exists to report the news, in this case about sports. Just like any other paper, criticism for a valid shortcoming is fair game. Just because the paper happens to be a school publication doesn’t mean I have to turn a blind eye to the reality of what’s happening on the field.

    Furthermore, it’s an opinion column, which means…it’s based on an opinion. The girls couldn’t beat PLU at home this season, save one incredible comeback which I fairly devote a good amount of time to in last week’s piece. That kind of game is about as good as sports gets. Like I say in the conclusion of the piece, that’s the kind of fight they had last season and what they’ll need to survive the postseason. I think based on the tough time they had against PLU, a very good team on a national level, they could have a really difficult time getting very far against other tough teams. I think that’s a pretty fair assessment.

    Also, are any of my facts incorrect? The team averaged over 3 errors against PLU. This is a fact. Errors are caused by lapses in focus or judgement, which could point towards a lack of focus or mental toughness. This is, again, a fair assessment based on a statistical fact. If our starting quarterback let interceptions and mental errors pile up I would certainly call that a lack of focus or toughness, just as I did mounting errors for the softball program. Sports players have thicker skins than you give them credit for; they’re big boys and girls and can take a little criticism.

    Also, I do acknowledge PLU’s stellar pitching efforts in my article. Do any of you actually read these, or do you just skim and start firing away half-cocked? Honestly…

    I am quite tired of students and community hounding me every time I write a non-positive or negative column in the Review. Look folks, I bleed purple and read and scream my head off at every sporting event I can get to (we’re all busy college students, after all). I was there banging on the fence when we drove in the go-ahead run in the 3-2 victory and hollering as loud as I could. I have season tickets for football and attend with my family. I am a proud member of the Linfield Hooligans soccer fan group. I love Linfield sports through to my very core. If you think I don’t support my teams, you clearly haven’t done your homework.

    I would encourage you to take a look at some opinion columns in major papers that cover sports organizations, for example, the Oregonian’s John Canzano. You will quickly see they aren’t as happy-go-lucky as most of what runs in the Review. If my pieces were as terrible or inaccurate as you all make them out to be, the Review board would never run it.

    Finally, I refuse to make changes to my writing just because a few people disagree. You’re entitled to your opinions and I respect your right to publish them in a public forum; how’s about tendering me the same respect?

    Sincerely, GO CATS,

    -Chris Forrer

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