The Pacific University softball team wanted to take a different approach into the 2018 season. To put it all out there, not care what anyone thinks and see what happens.
And it worked.
The Boxers shocked the Northwest Conference (NWC). Prior to the 2018 season, they were ranked second to last in the coaches poll but quietly climbed their way into the standings to make the NWC Tournament.
In the first round playing as the No. 4 seed, the Boxers made their way to Newberg, Ore. to play No. 1 George Fox. Pacific would rack up 14 hits and score 10 runs showing no mercy to the No. 14 nationally ranked Bruins. It would be a 10-2 decision, with the Boxers advancing to the second round.
The No. 16 nationally ranked Linfield Wildcats would be their next opponent and the Boxers picked up right where they left off with the bats. A three-run shot in the first inning by freshman Hailey Miller and later in the third inning, freshman Montana Vaught would hit a grand slam to take a 7-2 lead. The Wildcats would answer right back with three runs the same inning cutting it to a 7-6 lead for Pacific. The Boxers bats could not keep up with the hot hitting Wildcats as they would score four more runs en route to a 9-7 win. The Boxers would again have to play George Fox but would fall 7-2, ending their season.
It was a tough, emotional finish for the team, but the Boxers show promise for the future. Supporting such a young team with only four seniors this year, it is these types of situations that prepare them for the next seasons to come.
“I think experience in all facets, “head coach Liz Yandall commented. “We made some mistakes on defense that we normally do not make. But, sometimes it is a younger kid in a pressure situation and we did give up some more walks and homeruns that we have in the past, again—in some pressure situations. We talk every day about getting one percent better, focusing on that in the season and we are going to do the same thing next year and if we continue to get better a little bit in each facet I think we will cover those gaps pretty well.”
The Boxers finished 22-17 overall, 15-13 (NWC), to grab the fourth and final spot for the NWC Tournament. It was quite a difference from last season as they finished 11-27, 9-19 (NWC). They only scored 129 runs all season with just one player batting over .300. This season, the Boxers ripped the cover off of the ball. They would score 217 runs, have six players batting over .300, and knock seven more homeruns over the fence.
Experience played the biggest part for this team. Last season, coach Yandall and her staff had nine new starters on the field with seven seniors graduating the season prior and some players deciding not to come back.
“It was a brand new starting lineup for us, something that never happens in softball,” Yandall said. “We did have some more experience this year and had a pretty special freshmen class as well so putting those two things together helped us out a lot this year.”
The freshmen class was scintillating for the team offensively. Four of the six hitters batting .300 and over were all freshmen. Outfielder Nicole Martinez would hit .321 on the year, but was a force on the base paths. Martinez was 24/25 on stolen base attempts, which ranked second in the NWC. Behind the plate was catcher Montana Vaught, who sat second on the team with a .344 average as well as home runs (4). Infielder Hailey Miller was not far behind Vaught with a .339 average, but would lead her team with six home runs, three of them coming from the NWC Tournament.
“The freshmen that we have will make an impact for the rest of that time we have here.” Miller said of herself and fellow freshmen teammates.
In the first game of the tournament against George Fox, Miller would hit two out of the park. Second round against Linfield, she would add another. Miller’s slugging percentage (.591) ranked first for the Boxers as her power from the plate is always something that has been familiar in her game even with the transition to collegiate play.
“I have always been able to have that kind of power,” Miller said of her three home runs during the tournament. “It just felt really good because I have not been doing it as well during the season. It was nice getting that success from my hard work.”
Both Miller and Vaught were honored with ‘Second Team All-Conference’ awards last week.
Besides the freshmen class, a lot of success was brought from the upperclassmen as well. Seniors Trisha Snyder and Haley Kodama were honored with ‘Honorable Mentions’ from the conference to end their successful careers with the program. Both would play and start in all 39 games played, giving their experience and leadership to set the tone for the future of the softball program.
Fellow seniors Alyssa Burns and Erin Shick would provide their ability on the mound, each proving six wins to their record. Burns would lead her team in strikeouts (57) and hold her opponents to a .251 batting average. Shick led the Boxers with a 3.33 ERA and appear in 20 games, starting eight of them.
Junior Kaitlynn Donaca, otherwise known as “Momma Don” because of how she takes care of everybody in the outfield with communication, making sure people know where they are at and where they are going— had a season to remember.
Last season, Donaca would go through a ‘sophomore slump’ in which she batted .268 after a highly successful freshman season of an average .376 and earning a ‘First Team All-Conference’ nod.
If there was a ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ award, Donaca would be a favorite.
This season, she batted .388 which ranked not only first on her team, but sixth in the conference. Her 40 hits ranked third on the team and played and started in all but one game this season.
“Something that changed for me was to let loose and not tense up so much and worry about the numbers,” Donaca explained. “My freshman year I received ‘First Team All-Conference’ and I think that I thought so much about that last year that I choked. Coming from a strong first year and being the only one with a lot of game experience also put pressure on me to feel like I had to perform. This year I just let myself play the game.”
She would receive ‘Second Team All-Conference’ honors this season but Yandall thought different of her award.
“She should have been First Team All-Conference,” Yandall said. “She was super consistent and I think maybe one of the reasons she did not get First Team because it is a really understated dominance she has at the plate. She is not big, she is not showy–but she is super consistent for our lineup.”
The future is bright for the softball team with a strong returning class. A NWC Title is in sight as always for Yandall and her team but it is still just one step at a time.
“We got a huge amount of potential,” Yandall said. “I think the next step for our girls is not to only believe it, but start owning it.”