Nothing about the postseason is guaranteed.
Not even for the defending NCAA Division III national champions who have won almost 92 percent of their games this season and top the national rankings.
Staci Doucette, an Evergreen High School graduate and three-time All-American who plays first base for the Linfield College softball team, said the Wildcats are focused for the postseason that begins this weekend with the Northwest Conference tournament they are hosting in McMinnville, Ore.
After a 34-3 regular season that included a 25-3 mark in NWC play, Linfield will face No. 4 seed George Fox (20-20, 15-13) to begin the tournament at 11 a.m. Saturday. Also participating are No. 2 seed Pacific Lutheran (34-10, 24-4) and No. 3 seed Willamette (20-13, 19-9).
An automatic bid to NCAA regionals goes to the tournament winner. Linfield may seem assured of garnering an at-large bid in any case, but Doucette said the Wildcats want to take no chances.
“With the way the NCAA works, you never really know for sure, so we’re definitely gunning for that automatic berth,” she said. “We kind of view it as a way to build momentum through the playoffs. Basically, we all just like winning games. We think that it’s always best to go into the playoffs on a winning streak instead of maybe losing the last game at the conference tournament and having to recover mentally from that. If we can win the conference tournament, that would be a really good momentum builder for the playoffs.”
Linfield’s losses this season were all in conference play, and all at home. PLU swept a March 11 doubleheader, and Willamette took the first of four games between the teams to conclude the regular season last weekend. After gaining a home split Saturday, the Wildcats beat the Bearcats twice in Salem, Ore., on Sunday to clinch a ninth consecutive NWC championship.
The Wildcats are 167-19 in Doucette’s four years, 105-7 in NWC play. She and catcher Emilee Lepp share a school record with starts in all 186 games of their careers so far.
“We give a lot of credit to Pacific Lutheran and Willamette for really challenging us this year, and other teams in our conference have definitely gotten better,” Doucette said. “We can’t sneak up on anybody anymore.
“We accept that everyone is going to get up to play us and circle us on their calendars, because if they can beat Linfield, that’s a huge victory for them. If we don’t bring it, there are definitely teams that can challenge us.”
Linfield lost five seniors from last year’s team, four of them starters. The Wildcats have a new middle infield this season, and Doucette said the team’s younger players have stepped up to fill roles.
The Linfield roster also includes a trio of Clark County freshmen in shortstop Erin Carson of Camas and outfielders Grace Middelstadt of Prairie and McKenna Spieth of Union.
“It went well for us, for the most part,” Doucette said of the team’s season. “We had to battle more than we did last year, but I think from the start of the season, we just worked really hard and have gotten better. We’re trying to use things as an opportunity to get better. We’re definitely happy with winning the conference, but we know there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Doucette, who Tuesday was named NWC player of the week for the second time this season, concluded her final regular season by leading all of NCAA-III with 17 home runs and 54 RBI, while also leading the NWC with a .514 batting average. She has hit an NCAA-best 70 career homers.
“It’s been going really well so far,” Doucette said of her hitting. “I kind of struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year, but I keep working at it and trying to get better every day in practice.”
Doucette was named NWC player of the year after her freshman and sophomore seasons. That honor went last year to Lepp, but at least that kept it with the team.
Doucette, who has been raking in honors during her Linfield career, said neither of them is concerned about this year’s conference award.
“It doesn’t come up that much,” she said. “I think we’re both more concerned about just winning games.”
There has certainly been plenty of that.
CCC honors Dixson
Concordia University junior thrower Gabi Dixson was named Cascade Collegiate Conference Women’s Field Athlete of the Week after the John Knight Twilight Meet on Friday in Eugene.
The homeschool graduate, who competed for Battle Ground High School, added more than five feet to her NAIA-leading discus mark of 162 feet, 5 inches; and set a career best of 179-3 in the hammer, at No. 4 on the NAIA performance list this season. Dixson won the discus and was second in the hammer and third in shot put at 43-5.
CCC academic honors
Clark County athletes were among those garnering Academic All-Cascade Collegiate Conference honors for spring sports. Recognized athletes must have a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.2 and at least sophomore standing.
Concordia — Kristina Cupp, sophomore, Vancouver Christian High School, track and field, business major; Gabi Dixson, junior, homeschool, track and field, psychology; Rick Francisco, senior, Mountain View, baseball, psychology; Kristin Sass, junior, Heritage, track and field, interdisciplinary studies.
Corban — Erik Cronrath, senior, Battle Ground, track and field, human performance; John Trimble, junior, Hudson’s Bay, track and field, health science
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