Catball ready to take on NCAA Regional tourney

Joe Stuart, Staff Writer

The Linfield Wildcats softball team was crowned the Northwest Conference Champions just two weeks ago, but their season is far from over.

While other teams across the country have hung up their cleats for the year, or are just now playing in their conference tourneys, the Wildcats have been vigorously preparing for the next step in their chase for the third NCAA national championship in program history.

“We are just continuing to work hard at practice and push each other to get better before we get to play again,” said sophomore outfielder Cheyenne Fletcher.

Next weekend, Linfield will travel to play in the NCAA Division III Regional tournament, which if they win, will lead to them playing in the NCAA Super Regionals, and eventually, the NCAA Finals.

Last season, Linfield reached the NCAA Finals tournament, but fell in the second round to the University of Texas-Tyler.

But this year, the ’Cats have a fire lit in them that they hope to carry them all the way.

Very few thought Linfield would be qualifying for the NCAA Regionals, after an up and down start to the season.

But Linfield peaked at the right time, winning eight of their final 10 games, propelling themselves into second place in the conference standings, which was just what they needed to upset the NWC regular season champs the Whitworth University Pirates.

Thanks to the upset, Linfield jumped into the NCAA top 25, now sitting as the number 22 team in the nation.

To get ready for the NCAA Regionals, the practices have been tough.

“We practice for hours every day,” said freshman third-baseman Paige Smotherman.

“In order to beat the best we have to have perfect practice to be able to play perfect and make the plays 100 percent of the time,” Smotherman said.

Another tactic that the Wildcats have been using has been scrimmaging for hours on end to try and create a game-like experience so that next weekend it doesn’t feel like they haven’t played for three weeks.

That, and batting practice with live pitching, as well as many other drills that are used to mimic in-game situations are all things that head coach Jackson Vaughn and his staff are doing to create a competitive environment in practice while their opponents are still playing conference games.

“The biggest thing we have been working on is our energy and continuously encouraging and talking on the field so when game time comes we are ready,” said Smotherman.

A name to watch in the NCAA tournaments will be freshman pitcher Shelby Saylors, who took the NWC by storm in her first year, especially in the conference tourney, where she recorded the win in all three games the Wildcats played in.

As far as offense goes, Fletcher, along with Jacinda Swiger, ’19, Erin Tauscher, ’17, Erin Kinney, ’17, and Melanie Oord, ’18, all caught fire in the tourney, and will look to continue their strong performances next weekend.

The Wildcats will have their work cut out for them.

Four other top seven teams in the West region are among the national top 25, as well as conference foes Whitworth and George Fox University.

“We’re all looking forward to finding out who we get to play,” said Fletcher.

The announcement by the NCAA will be made in the selection show on May 9, with Linfield taking the field May 13 in the first round of the NCAA Regional Tournament.