Clark College softball going to NWACs for the first time

Penguins off to Spokane for championship tournament

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer

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Meghan Crouse celebrated Mother’s Day twice last Sunday.

First came with her toddler son and 12-year-old stepson.

Then later in the day, with her Clark College softball team, and the 13 daughters she coaches.

It wasn’t just another day in their first season together. It was a historical one, because they learned Clark qualified for the Northwest Athletic Conference softball tournament, earning the 16th and final berth to this weekend’s tournament. It’s Clark’s first postseason berth since the college began softball in 2006.

And like any mother — and coach — proud doesn’t begin to describe what her players have achieved this season.

“Getting into this tournament,” the first-year coach said, “this is exactly what we set up and planned to do. This team has such a great attitude. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls.

“Not just good student-athlete, but they’re good people.”

Clark (13-18) opens the tournament against top-seeded Douglas College, out of New Westminster, B.C., at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane. The four-day tournament concludes Monday.

Crouse knows her team has its work cut out against a Royals team that’s 32-0 in conference (39-2 overall), but she’s embracing it.

And her team’s been in positions like this before all season: the underdog role.

In last week’s home finale, Clark split with South Region champion Southwestern Oregon, taking the first game, 6-5.

“We have this in us,” the first-year coach said. “When they believe it collectively, they’re capable of doing really great things.”

With already-thin numbers to start the year, the roster is even thinner entering the postseason. Recent season-ending injuries cut the roster down to 11 after losing catcher Sarah Hoechlin (knee) and outfielder Nicole Katyryniuk (concussion).

But that hasn’t hindered the Penguins’ productivity.

Infielders Karley Yoshioka and Shaz Nakoa-Chung are both hitting better than .400 and are leading the team in hits, runs, and RBI. Nakoa-Chung also has a team-high six home runs.

Injuries also have made Crouse use her creativity in other ways. Nakoa-Chung pitched in high school, so to spare Penguins pitchers Madison Seed and Madison Plummer for a few innings, she’s thrown in three games.

Clark is one of seven South Region teams that made the NWAC Tournament. This spring is the second year of the NWAC’s new playoff-qualifying format. Two years ago, the NWAC did away with its traditional top-4 in each division advancing to the postseason and moved to a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) for postseason qualification.

Crouse believes the strength of the South Region boosted Clark, which finished 16th in the RPI and grabbed the final NWAC playoff spot. In addition to splitting with South Region champ Southwestern Oregon last week, Clark also won two out of four games with second-place Clackamas.

Crouse, a 2004 Evergreen High graduate, said she was told she’ll always remember her first team as a first-year head coach.

But this team in more ways than one, she said.

“This one,” she said, “definitely goes down in the books as a special team.”

NWAC Softball Championships

Clark County alums on NWAC softball teams participating in the championship tournament (seed, team, record):

No. 4 Clackamas (28-7) — Jamie Phares, so, OF, Prairie HS; Aisha Ensley, fr, OF, Union HS; Tori O’Neill, so, INF, Camas HS.

No. 6 Bellevue (31-13) — Emma Jimenez, fr, INF, Camas HS; Jordan Shaw, fr, INF/OF, Prairie HS.

No. 8 Centralia (18-15) — Sydnie Cole-Voglar, so, INF, Hockinson HS.

No. 10 Lower Columbia (18-14) — Myranda Krull, fr, C/UT, Skyview HS; Traci Fuller, head coach, Prairie HS grad, former coach at Skyview and Fort Vancouver.

No. 11 North Idaho (29-15) — Mckenzie Schaller, fr, INF, Skyview HS

No. 15 Mt. Hood (18-21) — Kayla Aguirre, fr, OF, La Center HS; Madisen Baldwin, so, C/INF, Washougal HS.

No. 16 Clark (15-18) — Kaylee Harteloo, so, 1B, Hockinson HS

FRIDAY’S SCHEDULE

At Merkle Sports Complex, Spokane

G1, SW Oregon (34-7) vs. Mt. Hood (18-21), 10 a.m.

G2, Walla Walla (27-13) vs. Lower Columbia (18-14), 10 a.m.

G3, Bellevue (31-13) vs. North Idaho (29-15), 10 a.m.

G4, Wenatchee Valley (32-10) vs. Spokane (23-19), 10 a.m.

G5, Highline (21-21) vs. Clackamas (28-7), 12:30 p.m.

G6, Chemeketa (18-21) vs. Edmonds, 12:30 p.m.

G7, Treasure Valley (23-21) vs. Centralia (18-15), 12:30 p.m.

G8, Clark (15-18) vs. Douglas (39-2), 12:30 p.m.

G9, Loser G1 vs. Loser G2, 3 p.m. (loser out)

G10, Loser G3 vs. Loser G4, 3 p.m. (loser out)

G11, Winner G1 vs. Winner G2, 3 p.m.

G12, Winner G3 vs. Winner G4, 3 p.m.

G13, Loser G5 vs. Loser G6, 5:30 p.m. (loser out)

G14, Loser G7 vs. Loser G8, 5:30 p.m. (loser out)

G15, Winner G5 vs. Winner G6, 5:30 p.m.

G16, Winner G7 vs. Winner G8, 5:30 p.m.

NOTE: For updates, visit www.nwacsports.org