A little refresher might be in order when it comes to the Philomath High School softball program — it’s been two years since the Warriors have seen any action.
When Philomath last took the field during the spring of 2019, Erik Remington was the head coach, shortstop Hannah Williams was the Oregon West’s player of the year and the team compiled a 20-9 record and reached the state quarterfinals.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 season and here in 2021, the softball team has been preparing for a season opener that arrives on Monday afternoon at Sisters.
Travis King, who has been an assistant coach in Philomath’s resurgent softball program in recent years, takes over as head coach. In fact, he was named to the position 14 months ago. A few familiar names are also back in uniform, including the 2019 pitcher of the year in Kamden Combs and a speedy center fielder with a capable bat in Kaili Saathoff.
The dynamic may be a little difficult to predict when it comes to Oregon West softball. King believes the Warriors will continue to put a competitive group on the field but not a lot is known about the other teams. The pandemic has reduced roster sizes, some athletes may be focusing only on certain sports and a few schools have new head coaches.
“We’re looking pretty optimistic on our side of things that we’re going to come out … and we’re going to bring what we can to the table,” King said. “We should do all right, we should be right up there again.”
King has 23 athletes in the program, a drop of 11 players compared to a year ago. But it really comes as no surprise with many high schools seeing reduced numbers in athletics.
The PHS coaching staff will have its work cut out with a young roster to develop. Out of those 23 players, 15 are sophomores and freshmen. And since there was no season last year, the sophomores are in the same boat as their younger counterparts with no high school games under their belts.
The softball team’s first official practice was April 5, although pitchers and catchers could report two weeks earlier. King hasn’t had all of his players, though, because many of them also were playing volleyball and soccer.
Starting in the circle will be a familiar name to Philomath softball fans — Combs. Now a senior, she’s been starting for the Warriors since her freshman year.
“She’s back, she’s pitching and she’s looking good,” King said. “I think she’s pretty much right back to where she started from.”
Philomath sees potential but not a lot of experience among the other pitching candidates. King said sophomore Elizabeth Morales and freshman Ahnika Tryon can both step into the job.
“Elizabeth brings a wide range because she can play other positions as well and she brings a bat to the lineup,” King said.
Tryon, meanwhile, may find her way into good playing time with abilities that could see her at shortstop, for example.
Behind the plate, junior Reagan Larson brings significant experience as a returning starter. Junior Kyla Berger is penciled in as the backup at catcher.
Around the rest of the infield, the opening-day lineup appears to be freshman Melanie Baldwin at first base, Morales at second base, junior Ashlynn Barron at shortstop and senior Emily King at third base.
King indicated that Baldwin fits the mold of a hard-hitting first baseman.
“She brings a ton of power up at the plate,” King said. “She’s hitting the ball a lot out of the park, so that will be good for us.”
A few players may share time at second base.
“Second base right now is kind of a toss-up … we’re not 100% sure,” King said. “We’ll probably start on Monday with Elizabeth Morales there and see how that goes.”
Shortstop and third base could see some shifting depending on the situation but to start, Barron’s in the 6 hole and King’s at the hot corner.
“She might bounce a little bit at short, we’re working with her on that,” King said about his daughter, Emily. “She’s hitting the ball very well right now, she’s really seeing the ball.”
Coach King’s very familiar with what Barron can do at shortstop — he’s one of those athletes that he’s been coaching since their middle school years.
In the outfield, Saathoff — who also goes by K2 among her coaches and teammates — returns for a final go-round in center. Saathoff has been a program standout over the past few seasons running down line drives — who can forget the home run she robbed of a Newport hitter in 2018 — and coming up with clutch hits at the plate.
Heading into this first week of games, freshman Presley Reichhuber is slated for right field. The starter in left field is a toss-up, King said, between junior Cassidy Lewis and sophomore Mia Bennett.
As King pointed out, several players have the ability to play at various positions, something he sees as a definite advantage.
“It’s given us a lot of range, which is what we decided we wanted at the varsity level because a lot of players can move around if we need them to,” King said.
King’s coaching staff includes newcomers Adrienne Engle (varsity assistant) and Sunny Bennett (JV assistant). Others coaching varsity as assistants are Erik Remington, the former head coach, and Jeff Ordway. Saff Evans will head up the junior varsity team with Jessica Motter returning as an assistant as well as the addition of Bennett.
Philomath’s schedule — heading into this week anyway — features 12 games over a four-week period. Changes could always occur with the schedule, although King said most efforts at this time are focused on finding more games for the JV.
After Monday’s road trip, the Warriors will make their home debut at 4:30 p.m. Thursday against Sweet Home.
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