Post-season play is on the doorstep. There was a need for a lead. It was the final day where a home game was possible.
The No. 7 Linfield softball team needed to get something started if it was to avoid extra innings. But it had either been tied or trailed defending Division III champions Pacific Lutheran all game. The game was now tied 2-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. Leading off the inning for the ‘Cats was one of just two seniors on the entire roster.
The senior, Karleigh Prestianni, coolly laced the second pitch into left field for a base hit. Just what the playoff doctor ordered (yes, there is a playoff doctor. Not sure about his/her pay grade, but it must be substantial). Prestianni would come around to score in the inning, and Linfield would not relinquish the 3-2 lead.
“We’ve seen [Pacific Lutheran pitcher] Kaaren Hatlen quite a few times over the years so I knew I was going to get something inside…in the at bat and I got it on the second pitch…and it worked out,” Prestianni said.
With the win, Linfield took home the NWC tournament crown on its home field and clinched an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
After losing a lot of talent from last year’s team that finished runner up to Pacific Lutheran University in the National Title game, and with just two seniors on the roster, Linfield dominated the NWC this season.
When asked about the success of this young team, Prestianni said, “We lost a lot of talent from last year, but this team has been so much fun to play on because everyone has so much heart…the underclassmen have stepped up huge, and it’s cool to see them growing up and getting better every day.”
It’s true, this team is by far the best in the NWC. It won the NWC regular season by seven full games. The top three leaders in batting average in the NWC are all Linfield players—sophomore Erin Carson, Prestianni and junior Ashley Garcia. The leader in home runs is Linfield sophomore, Lisa Yamamoto. The three leaders in ERA are all Linfield pitchers—sophomore Montana McNealy, and juniors Karina Paavola and Shelby VandeBergh. Paavola leads the league in strikeouts by a staggering 40 total strikeouts. Linfield’s sophomore Grace Middlestadt leads the league in stolen bases.
Get the idea?
It has even saved its best play for the final half of the season. After a loss to Chapman University on March 22, Linfield has won 19 of its past 20 games. The team is on fire when the games are beginning to matter more.
“I think we have a great shot in the postseason. It’s all about who plays good at the right time and I think we a have a very good opportunity to do that,” Prestianni said.
With the NWC tournament victory, Prestianni said, “today was like our real senior day.”
One of the perks of winning the league is hosting the conference tournament. Of course, hosting the tournament is only made sweeter by winning said tournament.
Now the ‘Cats embark on an NCAA tournament journey. They just picked up another perk: they are guaranteed a spot. Based off of the success of the team this year, if it is in need of a lead in the coming games, it can get the job done.
Just ask the rest of the NWC. This team is one of the best.
Tyler Bradley/Sports columnist
Tyler Bradley can be reached at email@example.com.