by Max Carter
Following a rough 15-2 loss to visiting Linfield on Saturday morning, the Bucs held a slim one-game lead over the Wildcats with three games remaining in the weekend quad. However, the Pirates followed the crushing defeat with two crucial, well-fought victories to win their second straight regular season Northwest Conference championship.
Led by their two seniors, Alyssa Hall and Megan John, the Pirates have become a close-knit, relationship-focused team. Hall and John have been the driving force for head coach Cristal Brown in helping to establish that atmosphere over the last four years.
“They were our first two recruits, and they both have bought into the culture of Whitworth softball and the vision that we had for that,” Brown said. “They have been the centerpiece for carrying that out and making that transformation from year to year.”
While winning is the primary goal for the Pirates when they take to the diamond, the victories and achievements are not what Hall will remember when she hangs up her cleats.
“I’ll take away the personal relationships, memories and the social aspect of it more than the softball,” Hall said. “Yeah, I’ll always love the sport, but the more important part is the relationships that I’ve made and how that has impacted my life.”
Although Hall and John will be graduating in May, Brown and her team are in good shape for the future, with six players set to return as seniors in 2017. Juniors Makayla Lefever, Shannon Wessel and Tessa Matthews are three of those six, and they all stepped up when it mattered this weekend. But despite pulling off the victory in game two on Saturday, it didn’t look very good for the Bucs until late in the contest.
After the Wildcats scored three in the fifth inning and one in the sixth, the Bucs found themselves down 5-1. Then, in the bottom of the seventh inning, an RBI single from sophomore Chelsey Hayes gave the Pirates the opening they needed.
Down to their final out with the bases loaded, sophomore Kelsey Downey ripped a bases-clearing triple to right field to level the score and send the game into extras. With the score tied 5-5, Lefever pitched a scoreless eighth to get the bats in the Pirates’ hands once again. Following two quick outs, Matthews stepped up to the plate and crushed a walk-off homer to center field to end the game and return the two-game NWC lead to the Pirates.
Of all the fantastic play by the Pirates, the performance on the mound by Lefever was likely the most impressive part of the Bucs’ weekend. There is a reason why Lefever has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the NWC in 2016, assistant coach Bob Castle said.
“It goes back to how hard coach Brown works with the pitchers and catchers to focus on working pitch by pitch,” Castle said.
With the regular season NWC championship in their possession, the Pirates have the upper hand as they will host the NWC tournament as the No. 1 seed. The tournament will open on Friday, April 22 at 9 a.m. as the Pirates take on the No. 4 seed Pacific Boxers.