Rejuvenated Clark softball looks to build winning foundation

First-year coach, overhauled roster have Penguins off to fast start

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

As rebuilding projects go, Clark College's softball team required more than some minor touch-ups.

It needed a re-pouring of the foundation.

Five games into the 2014 season, Clark's first-year coach and overhauled roster like what's starting to take shape.

Clark College softball schedule

Clark College

Softball schedule

Date Opponent

March

4 CENTRALIA 2-9, 5-4

8 Big Bend 19-6

9 Skagit Valley 10-3

9 Edmonds 9-5

22 #Bellevue 1 p.m.

22 #Everett 3 p.m.

23 #Centralia 10 a.m.

23 #Olympic Noon

27 PIERCE (DH) 1 p.m.

April

1 *Clackamas (DH) 1 p.m.

5 *Lwr. Columbia (DH) Noon

9 *MT. HOOD (DH) 1 p.m.

12 Skagit Crossover TBD

13 Skagit Crossover TBD

19 *SW Oregon (DH) 1 p.m.

22 *Chemeketa (DH) 1 p.m.

26 *Clackamas (DH) Noon

30 *LWR. COLUMBIA (DH) 1 p.m.

May

3 *Mt. Hood (DH) Noon

6 *SW OREGON (DH) 1 p.m.

9 *Chemeketa (DH) 1 p.m.

Home games in CAPS.

  • NWAACC league game

(#)-at Delta Park

At 4-1, Clark has already doubled its win total from last year's 2-27 season.

"We try not to talk at all about what happened last year," said coach Mandy Hill, who was hired in June. "The players can feel the atmosphere changing and they're addicted to it."

The remodeling also includes Clark's actual home. Dugouts, a press box and an outfield fence were built during the offseason as Clark enters its second year playing on campus.

But rebuilding the base of the program begins between the baselines. And Clark has been kicking up plenty of chalk early this season.

Clark scored 19, 10, and 9 runs in sweeping three games March 8-9 at an inter-region tournament in Lacey. The Penguins averaged 3.17 runs per game last season.

Only three players are back from last year's team. One of them, sophomore Samantha Wagner, said this team has a unity that was missing last year.

"Everyone is here to play for each other" said Wagner, a Heritage High School grad. "We build on each other and have each other's backs."

Seven players on Clark's roster were recruited from outside Southwest Washington. But it wasn't a case of Hill plucking the best talent from afar.

When Hill has hired, the college recruiting season had mostly passed. She had to recruit players who were largely overlooked by other colleges.

"I am so thankful for the girls I found," Hill said. "For some reason, nobody had picked them up. Somebody else's mistake was my fortune."

But Hill still had to convince those players to join a program with no winning tradition. Hill instead touted a vision.

"I'm trying to make it known that this is a great place to be," Hill said. "I want to be part of a team that can say, 'we were low, but look where we've come.'"

Hill can speak from experience. A standout pitcher at Battle Ground, in 2005 she joined a Portland State program that was coming off six consecutive losing seasons.

By Hill's sophomore year, Portland State had changed its culture. That year saw the Vikings finish 24-7 and win their first Pacific Coast Softball Conference title. PSU would finish with a winning record six of the next seven seasons.

Hill still holds multiple career records at her alma mater -- most wins (67), appearances (147), innings pitched (283.2) and even ranks second on the home run list with 31.

"Mandy is a really positive coach," said assistant coach Sam Autry, who was Hill's pitching coach when she was a teenager. "They feed off her energy."

Instead of a pitching machine, having a recent Division-I pitcher throwing batting practice every day is paying dividends. Three Clark players are hitting .400 or better, led by Haley Hamilton at .619.

Hamilton, a freshman from Battle Ground, said the team's commitment to win started over the winter with players organizing workouts and weightlifting.

"We'd be working out in the hallways if the weight room was closed," Hamilton said. "We didn't make excuses. We just did it."

Though they hope to make the NWAACC playoffs, Clark's players say they won't measure this season by wins and losses. Rather, this season is being measured by building a newfound pride in the program.

"The success of this program is already a lot," Wagner said. "I'm proud to step out and say I play softball at Clark."