Kaili Saathoff hitting
Kaili Saathoff, a four-year starter in center field for the Warriors, plans to play collegiately at Linfield. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

A fixture in center field for the past four seasons, former Philomath High School standout Kaili Saathoff will take her softball skills to the next level at Linfield University. Graduating earlier this month with the Class of 2021, Saathoff leaves behind an impressive stretch on the softball field for the Warriors.

This spring with Philomath, she hit .488 with two home runs and 16 RBIs — all team highs — in a season shortened to 13 games. On the all-Oregon West Conference team, coaches voted to give her the Player of the Year honor.

Travis King, who was Saathoff’s coach — and not just in high school but as far back as 10-and-under — called her a phenomenal player.

“From her bat to her ability to just her acrobatics with diving over a fence to rob a home run or making a diving catch coming in — she’s just all over the place,” King said. “She’s been a really solid point to our program.”

The opportunity to play softball at Linfield surfaced while Saathoff was playing for her club team, the Northwest Vandals, in October during a tournament in Salem. Head coach Jackson Vaughn was among the spectators.

“I didn’t know he was there actually, I didn’t find out until about a week later, but he saw me struggling against this one team … struggling hitting,” Saathoff said.

Saathoff needed to get back into the flow, so she did some extra work with the bat in between games with one of her coaches. The work paid off with Vaughn again scouting her next game.

“In that next game, I ended up hitting two home runs, so he saw me do that,” Saathoff laughed. “And then the next weekend we played the same team that I had been struggling against and I ended up hitting a walk-off home run in that game and the assistant coach was there watching.”

Later that same week, Saathoff received an email of interest from Linfield. She headed up to McMinnville for a campus visit — as much as could be allowed during COVID-19 restrictions.

“Linfield wasn’t on my radar until then,” Saathoff said. “I was more looking at Willamette, George Fox — D3 and NAIA schools around the area but for some reason, I wasn’t really considering Linfield. And so then I became interested once he started to talk to me.”

Kaili Saathoff: “I love chasing down balls in the outfield and I love running around the bases. The feeling of getting a good hit, there’s nothing like it.” (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Linfield competes in the NCAA’s Division III and is a member of the Northwest Conference. The Wildcats went 38-9 this past season and Vaughn, the head coach, has more than 700 wins in 20 years, including nine D3 regional titles and two national titles (2007 and 2011).

“They’re definitely one of the top schools in the area,” Saathoff said. “It’s exciting that I caught the eye of a coach who is part of this super successful program.”

Saathoff is the second local player to head to Linfield in recent years. Reiley Reichhuber, who graduated with Philomath High’s Class of 2018, played there for one season.

Saathoff had been a mainstay in center field for the Warriors but she’s been seeing time at first base with her club team. Last year, Saathoff’s shoulder started hurting and so the Northwest Vandals transitioned her into the new position.

More recently, she said her shoulder has been feeling better, and positions have included left field, center field and first base. Wherever she ends up playing at Linfield, Saathoff hopes to see good playing time.

“Right now, we have a senior first baseman who’s really good so if I do make the starting roster, I’ll be in the outfield — I don’t know where in the outfield,” she said.

Saathoff’s contributions to PHS softball helped turn around a program that for years had struggled with losing records. The 2018 team when Saathoff was a freshman took a conference title for the first time in 34 years.

“It was a really cool experience,” she said. “Being a part of that, I felt accomplished with myself but I also felt like it was something bigger for Philomath.”

Saathoff believes her work ethic will be an asset when it comes to making the transition to collegiate softball.

“I love chasing down balls in the outfield and I love running around the bases,” she said. “The feeling of getting a good hit, there’s nothing like it. So when I have that motivation like this is fun, it makes me work even harder. I think that’s going to be a strength going into a program where they’re looking at how much effort you put into it.”

Saathoff, who graduated with a 4.0 grade point average and was one of the Class of 2021’s valedictorians, earned a Linfield College Merit Scholarship. She’s undecided for a major as she gets started but is leaning toward something in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) area.