Poised for another run at the Northwest Conference title, the Linfield Wildcats are locked and loaded for the 2017 season. The Wildcats, ranked No. 8 in the latest AFCA Top 25 poll, return nearly every starting position player and also welcome back the bulk of their pitching staff.
“We have such a big senior class and our junior class is experienced, so this is one of the more veteran teams we’ve had in a while,” said Wildcats coach Jackson Vaughan. “We return essentially everybody from last year, so expectations are pretty high.”
The Wildcats punched their NCAA tournament ticket by winning the NWC tournament in Spokane last spring. This time around, the ‘Cats look to take the NWC by storm.
Starting inside the pitching circle are four seasoned Wildcats. Sophomore Shelby Saylors is fresh off of an all-West Region campaign in which she led the team in nearly every statistical category. Seniors Brooke Chapman and Brynn Lio are expected to supply quality innings while sophomore Tanna Benson stands ready to contribute.
“Certainly, Shelby has done some good things. Brooke definitely is improved and is becoming more consistent. Tanna continues to evolve as a sophomore. Brynn has pitched some quality innings for us is pretty steady.
“Mandy Hill, our new pitching coach, is happy with our progress,” said Vaughan. “Hopefully, the pitching staff will continue to grow as the year goes along. We know as a program we can only go as far as our pitching will lead us.”
Defensively, the ‘Cats are solid. The Linfield defense is arguably the best element of the team. Around the horn, senior Erin Kinney and sophomore Paige Smotherman are covering third base with senior Alissa Buss at shortstop.
Senior Kenzie Schmoll remains at second base while senior Danielle Duman is the anchor at first base. In the outfield, junior Jacinda Swiger starts in left field with Jenica Neuffer supplying late-inning relief defensively. In center field, Cheyenne Fletcher is poised for an all-star season. In right field is senior All-American Melanie Oord.
The lineup, as presented, offers Vaughan the diversity to swing for power or run with speed.
“Hopefully, we’ll untilize a mixture of the long ball and small ball,” he said. “We have some power with Duman, Tauscher, Kinney and Oord in the lineup. Fletcher gives us both power and speed. Swiger and Buss have the ability to use their speed and bunt a little when it’s needed.”
By all indications, Linfield all the tools to inflict serious damage on the rest of the NWC this spring. The ‘Cats have already display their offensive arsenal. When combined with speed on the base paths, the Wildcats are an incredibly dangerous team.
“The girls know from experience that nothing is given,” said Vaughan. “They’re working hard. The team is practicing as though they must work for every accomplishment that comes their way.”