Freshman makes big impact for Linfield softball 

Maddie Loverich, Sports Editor

In an early exhibition matchup in March, Linfield softball found itself trailing to rival Whitworth University in the second game of the day. The Pirates had jumped to a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning and added another run in the fifth to lead the Wildcats 4-2. 

Linfield eventually strung together enough hits to narrow Whitworth’s lead to 4-3. With two runners on base and one out, Linfield’s head coach Jackson Vaughn called time to make a substitution. 

He walked towards the umpire and called to the dugout, “Jenny Ball!” 

The dugout buzzed as the freshman quickly scrambled to grab her batting gloves, a helmet and a bat before rushing to the plate for her first collegiate at-bat. 

Ball swung at and missed a first pitch strike. 

“I was in the box just saying to myself, ‘Just drive the ball, Jenny,’” she laughed. “Even after I missed that first ball, I wasn’t nervous. I was just like, ‘Just get on base, Jenny. You’ll be fine.’” 

A foul ball down the left field line and two balls followed, bringing her count to 2-2. 

The next pitch came in at her shoulders and Ball connected, taking it all the way to the warning track. Both runners scored and Ball stood on second as cheers erupted from the dugout and teammates jumped around in celebration. Ball turned to the scoreboard to acknowledge that Linfield now led the game 5-4, and then turned back, seemingly unaffected. 

“I swung and I honestly don’t even know where the pitch was,” she recalled. “I just hit the ball, ended up on second base and saw everyone coming out of the dugout.”  

The Wildcats held their lead in the final half inning to win the game, thanks to Ball’s clutch performance. 

As the season progressed, Ball continued to have intermittent opportunities to pinch-hit in important games. 

Though the freshman’s role started in a limited capacity, her performance has made her an undeniable asset in the lineup. In her first eight appearances, she only had a single at-bat in each game. Regardless, she garnered four hits in those eight at-bats, a notably consistent statistic. 

It didn’t go unnoticed. She began to start one or two games a weekend as the designated hitter spot, competing with older hitters. Consistently, she delivered when needed, and is now hitting .441 with 15 hits in just 34 at-bats. 

“There’s a lot of good energy in the dugout, so it’s easy to stay engaged,” she said. “Now I know that if there’s a clutch situation, Jackson is probably going to call on me.”

She’s recorded 16 RBIs in those limited plate appearances. That’s only 11 short of the team’s average 27 RBIs from the starting nine players, who each have around 100 at-bats. 

Ball’s appearances have increasingly become more frequent. In the team’s most recent weekend series against Willamette University on April 23 and 24, the Wildcats trailed behind the Bearcats the entire first game. 

In the final inning, Ball was again called off the bench to hit. Linfield was behind 7-4.

Sure enough, Ball doubled to start the inning. The team rallied off of the momentum to score twice more, but eventually fell short 7-6 to drop a game to the Bearcats for the first time since 2015. 

After her clutch performance in the first game, Ball started the next three games and added five more hits during the series. 

Ball came to Linfield from West Salem High School, where she enjoyed a decorated career as a shortstop. Her senior season was derailed by COVID-19, but her success as a junior carried her through her socially-distanced collegiate signing day in 2020. 

As a junior, Ball led the state in home runs and doubles for her division. She also held first team all-state and all-conference honors along with being named the team’s MVP. 

That same year, she took an official visit to Linfield. She wanted to keep her options open, even though she was speaking to Montana State Billings, a Division-II school, at the time. It wasn’t her original intention to attend college so close to home. 

Per tradition, she stayed with a freshman player and had the opportunity to spend time with the team during a bonding event. She loved the experience and was impressed by the way the team immediately embraced her, so when the head coach offered her a spot, Ball answered with an easy yes. 

In the fall of 2020, Linfield had an allotted amount of practices to prepare for the upcoming spring season. Ball, staying true to the position she played at the end of her high school career, trained in the infield for the entire fall practice schedule. 

In January, however, she transitioned to the outfield. The change was a big one, but she credits the ease of her transition to the support and welcoming from veteran outfielders, Kelsey Wilkinson and Katie Phillips. 

“Katie and Kelsey were the main reason I got confident,” Ball said. “My first practice in the outfield, they were like ‘Oh my God, Jenny. You’re good!’”

Phillips remembers the first day of Ball practicing in the outfield, saying that she was immediately successful based on pure athleticism.

“Jenny Ball is a badass,” junior Katie Phillips said. “She goes up to the plate to take hacks and shows no fear. She’s basically our secret weapon and is like my little sister at this point.”

Ball looks forward to her first postseason run as a Wildcat in the coming weeks. At the moment, the team is ranked eighth in the nation by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. This weekend, they’ll seek to clinch first place in the Northwest Conference with three wins over George Fox University. GFU is currently ranked first in conference, leading the Wildcats by one game at 21-3.