It only takes one swing of the bat to change the complexion of a softball game.
The ability to seize the momentum with one swing is something the Linfield Wildcats know a thing or two about. The 2010 edition of “Catball” has blasted home runs at a record pace on the way to a 35-5 record.
“The feeling of hitting a home run is pretty unique,” explains Wildcats All-American Staci Doucette. “Right on contact you can usually tell whether or not the ball is going to leave the park. It's nice to know that throughout our lineup, one-through-nine, every single batter can change the game with one swing of the bat.”
With 59 home runs in 40 games this spring, the Wildcats have slugged their way into the Linfield record book, breaking the previous club record of 50 home runs set by the 2007 club. That group of Wildcats achieved the feat during a national championship season in which they played 52 games.
If the ‘Cats continue their winning ways, more records will undoubtedly fall. At the conclusion of Northwest Conference play, Linfield was leading the nation at 1.48 home runs per game, higher than the current NCAA Division III record. In 2003, Brandeis College notched the standing Division III record of 1.42 homers per game.
Home runs were not always a staple of the Linfield offense. A check of the Linfield softball record book reveals that as recently as 10 years ago, the Wildcats hit only four over the course of the entire season. In 1994, Linfield managed just one.
For Linfield head coach Jackson Vaughan, Linfield’s power numbers are a product of piecing together bright newcomers with established veterans.
“With the power hitters we had returning from last year, the development of our current players, and the addition of freshman Karleigh Prestianni (Sr., Grants Pass, Ore.), I knew that we would have a chance to hit a lot of home runs this year,” explains Vaughan. “But I can’t say that I ever expected them to come at the pace that they have.”
Of the Linfield seven players with three or more home runs, a trio of Wildcats stand alone in an offense chock-full of big bats.
Doucette, Prestianni and Emilee Lepp have combined to hit 39 homers, with Doucette leading the way with a single-season record-tying 14. Emily Keagbine is not far behind with nine.
Besides the wow-factor that comes with sending a ball over the fence, the home run has become a source of momentum for the ‘Cats.
“Home runs are very important to our offense because a lot of times that’s how we generate our momentum,” notes Lepp. “We feed off of each others home runs. We have several girls on the team who have the ability to jack the ball, so when one person starts hitting bombs then everyone else gets on that same track.”
If Lepp, Doucette and Prestianni keep their swings in the groove throughout the postseason, the Wildcats have a chance to shatter the NCAA single-season record for most home runs. With 13 more big-flys, Linfield would match St. Thomas’ 2006 record of 72 home runs.
For Lepp and company, the record serves as a nice superlative that means little in comparison to wins.
“We try not to think about that kind of stuff and just play our game,” reflects Lepp. “If we did get that record though, it would be a huge honor. We know that Linfield has generated a lot of really good teams in the past and it would be cool to know that we were one of those teams.”
While the Wildcats’ most glaring statistic is found in the home run column, it would be a misconception to view their lineup as a one-trick pony.
“I think the home runs are only a small part (of the offense),” says Vaughan. “As a team, we are far more concerned with the number of hits we are getting than with the home runs. That’s indicative of our .366 team batting average, which ranks among the top-20 teams in the nation. We also steal a fair amount of bases and lead the league in fewest strikeouts.”
Doucette, the Division III co-leader in homers, echoes her coach’s feelings.
“The home run has been a pretty big part of our team this year, but I wouldn't say we live and die by the home run like some other clubs do,” she says. “Even though we do hit quite a few homers, we don't solely rely on it. It's something that's always nice to have, but we know that we can score runs without hitting the ball out of the park.”
With the postseason kicking off in the coming weeks the Wildcats will need ever bit of their balanced attack to move on. A combination of power, speed and timely hitting will be the recipe for success as the ‘Cats hope to make another late-season push.
– Eric Evenson '11
Approaching career home record
in only her second season
Director of Sports Information
McMinnville, OR 97128