Catball's Clark County Connection

Carson, Middelstadt, Spieth help sustain Linfield powerhouse

By Kurt Zimmer, Columbian Sports Reporter

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Success is sustained by not taking success for granted.

As the Linfield College softball team prepares for its 11th consecutive trip to NCAA Division III regionals with no idea of who or where it will play next, the Wildcats focus on continuing incremental improvement.

A trio of Linfield juniors with Clark County roots — catcher McKenna Spieth (Union High School) and outfielders Erin Carson (Camas High School) and Grace Middelstadt (Prairie High School) — are carrying on the tradition of the program known as Catball. Each of them has started every game this season and on Tuesday was named All-Northwest Conference, Middelstadt on the First Team with Carson and Spieth on the Second Team.

“We have such high expectations,” Spieth said. “We do have to remind ourselves that it’s hard to do what we’ve done so far — winning the conference and all of that — and we have to appreciate the little things and be proud of our successes with the little things and not only look toward the bigger ones. We say, ‘Always take it in, because you never really know for the younger kids if you’re going to be able to go to regionals or nationals next year. This is the only time you’ll for sure be able to do what you’re doing right now.’ That’s a good reminder.”

One of those younger kids is freshman catcher Erin Tauscher, a Camas High School graduate.

Linfield (34-7) matched a Northwest Conference record by capturing an 11th consecutive NWC championship.

The Wildcats will learn Monday where they will play at the May 9-11 regionals. It could be at home in McMinnville, Ore., or it could be anywhere.

“They’re making us wait forever!” Spieth said with a laugh.

At least Linfield secured the NWC’s automatic bid to regionals and the team is not sweating out the wait for a possible at-large bid. For now, and with last year’s 0-2 showing at regionals after three consecutive seasons in the national championship game with the 2011 title — it’s practice as usual.

Carson said that the lesson from last season’s finish is to “just try to be the one to step up and get a base hit or get somebody in, and just not wait for somebody else to get the job done.”

Success with that would lead the Wildcats to Tyler, Texas, for NCAA Division III nationals on May 22-27.

“Our goal is to get back to nationals this year, just like it is every year,” Middelstadt said. “That’s what we play for. That’s why we work hard every day. It’s always the goal and what’s always what we’re striving for as Catball.”

Erin Carson, OF

After being named Second Team All-America by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association last year, Carson feels no pressure to justify those credentials.

She was more concerned about how her skills might be affected by her fall term overseas.

Majoring in international relations with a minor in Chinese studies, Carson spent three and a half months in Beijing, a valuable experience becoming nearly fluent in the language — great for her future plans, but not so much for softball.

Her .302 batting average this season is less gaudy than last year’s .475, and her 21 RBI are 11 behind last year’s total — but she already has more doubles (14) and triples (three) than she did a year ago with 12 and two, respectively.

“Obviously, it wasn’t like last year,” Carson said. “I struggled off and on throughout the season, but that just made me more focused on being a good team player and making sure I was being a good teammate and having a positive attitude — working hard and making sure that I’m focusing and practicing and making adjustments.”

Some of those adjustments have been adding power elements to the contact hitting style that had always been her approach in the batter’s box.

“As a player overall, I think I’ve gotten a more aggressive mindset on the bases and in the batter’s box and in the outfield — going after everything as hard as I can and not being as tentative as I have been in the past.”

Grace Middelstadt, OF

As a slap hitter looking to set the table for others, Middelstadt is batting .331 and leads the team with 41 runs scored. She is third on the team with 41 hits — all but five of them singles.

“My role as a slapper is to get on base,” she said. “I mean, everyone’s goal is to get on base, but I’m more of a base hit hitter. I’m not hitting bombs all the time. My goal is to get on base so I can be hit around by the people behind me.”

Middelstadt has 23 stolen bases on 27 attempts this season, bringing her career total so far to 79 and placing her third on the Linfield all-time list with her junior season still in progress. Oh, and one of her five extra-base hits this season was an inside-the-park home run.

“It’s something that I’m good at, I guess, so I haven’t tried to change too much,” she said of looking to steal. “Why fix it if it’s not broken? I guess I’m pretty fast. It’s hard to say that about yourself, but yes.”

Attending Linfield and continuing her softball playing days at the school has been transformational, Middelstadt said.

“I’ve grown up a lot at Linfield, and there are so many ways that I’ve grown through playing with Catball,” she said. “I have more maturity on the field, even — having confidence in yourself when you’re on the field. That’s a big one. College is a whole new level of playing from high school. Getting used to that and adapting to that forces you to grow, as a person and as a player.”

McKenna Spieth, C

After relatively little action on the field as a freshman playing behind an All-American at her position, Spieth said she feels increasingly confident after two seasons behind the plate. It helps considerably that Linfield has a veteran pitching staff, so they and their catcher have plenty of experience together.

When she is the one standing at the plate, Spieth is hitting .274 with four home runs and 17 RBI this season.

“I know I had a lot more of the jitters last year, just because I hadn’t caught in so long and just taking on that role,” she said. It’s been a lot smoother transition this year. Being a smarter player is what I’ve improved on a little bit more this year. It’s not just knowing myself, but knowing the girls a lot more — how much I can push them on my throws, and certain things like that. We didn’t lose any pitching from last year, and the year before that, we only lost one. I’ve been playing with the same girls for quite a few years now.”

Next stop: regionals.