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Wildcat softball looks ahead to bright 2015


by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Westview second baseman Kylie Alto will be one of many seasoned upperclassmen coming back for the Wildcats in 2015. Alto was first-team All-Metro.

Becoming a state title softball team isn’t an overnight operation.

It’s rarely even a single-season development.

There are levels to climb for a team to be worthy of a championship ring. It makes no difference if the team’s played hundreds of ASA games or has heaps of talent. Bridges must be crossed, and tribulations to bear. Programs that hadn’t won a playoff game in six years rarely go from unfortunate challenger to raising a blue trophy in Corvallis, though Westview almost ended a 6A dynasty and shattered every postseason myth about paying dues and being patient with the growing process.

This season, the Wildcats to all intents and purposes made substantial gains in putting themselves back in the state title picture. Westview knocked the first-round monkey off its back, beating Clackamas with ease to advance to the 6A quarterfinals. They took it a step further against West Linn and Barlow, displaying nerves of steel that belied their relative youth, beating a veteran Bruin squad. And, Westview was one swing away from toppling two-time defending North Medford’s hold on 6A before dropping an ambitious 2-0 road loss in the semifinals.

The defeat was tough to swallow for sure. But, as the tears dried Westview looked at how far it had come and how much potential there’s left to tap. The Wildcats surveyed who’s coming back for 2015 (five all-Metro selections, including sophomore sensation Abby Greer, her two-way stud catcher Katie Whetstine and the clutch Kylie Alto) that end-of-season sadness quickly turned into fiery motivation.

“The thing I saw after the game was disappointment,” said head coach Ronda McKenzie. “They weren’t quite satisfied with what they had accomplished this season, and I think they want more. That loss is going to motivate them to get after it next year and go further. This year they set their goals a little higher, which was great. I think next year they’re going to set them even higher. I expect great things from the returning kids next year.”

Greer, Whetstine, Alto, designated hitter Natalie Munson, first baseman Shannon Daly will all carry all-league credentials when next spring rolls around. Sprinkle in the abilities of Alexis Patino, who scored the winning run against Barlow in the quarters, Jordin Lowman and Jordan Holmquist who all played regularly for McKenzie and Westview’s looking at a top one or two preseason ranking in 6A next season.

“I could write what I feel is a really good lineup without my seniors,” said McKenzie. “With the kids I have returning, I feel pretty confident with the different options in the infield and outfield that are pretty strong.”

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Westview designated hitter Natalie Munson adjusted quickly to the high school level as a freshman and became a dangerous hitter at the plate.

McKenzie said she wasn’t sure how her young team would adapt to the heightened tension of the postseason. After all, though most of the Wildcats had competed in the first round, not a single Wildcat could say she’d experienced the sweet success of postseason victory. In fact, the veteran head coach said she was most nervous before Westview’s first round playoff game against Clackamas, solely based on the notion playoff pressure can break teams apart and turn even the most talented squads into basket cases. Yet the ‘Cats played relaxed and loose, but still perceptively and sharply. Chopping down the Cavs, 8-1, in the first round for Westview’s first playoff win since 2008 seemed to settle any lingering nerves. And, versus Barlow in the 6A quarterfinals, the Wildcats made every conceivable big play, outsmarting and outexecuting an older, supposedly wiser Bruin squad for the 1-0 conquest.

“I thought (Westview) had amazing composure all through the playoffs,” said McKenzie. “They competed very well throughout all the playoff games and showed a lot of maturity. Our kids might not have a ton of high school experience, but they have a lot of softball experience and a lot of talent.”

Before the season, McKenzie mentioned in order for Westview to go from a good team to a great team, it needed to prove itself with a semi-long playoff run, which was accomplished. The Wildcats’ evolution into a state-championship caliber squad looking ahead to 2015 rests on a couple of key details, McKenzie said.

Winning a couple more games in the preseason would boost Westview’s playoff ranking and therefore give the Wildcats a homefield advantage all the way through the second season. For example, Westview was ranked fifth in the OSAA power rankings, and since North Medford was No.1 following a dominant regular season, the Wildcats were the team driving five hours south a day before the game. Looking back, Westview’s preseason schedule was stacked with eventual state title-contending squads like South Salem, Barlow, Tualatin, Glencoe and three strong teams from California during a spring break trip. In those six games, Westview went 3-3, losing to the state finalist Saxons, quarterfinalist Bruins and second- round-contending Timberwolves. If Westview can turn two of those losses into wins, they might be able to avoid a rematch with the Black Tornado until the state final in 2015.

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Westview first baseman Shannon Daly was second-team all-Metro and is one of seven all-leaguers coming back next season.

“Anytime you’re traveling that far, especially for a semifinal game, you’re probably at a disadvantage,” said McKenzie. “If you can get another game against a Portland Metro area team, that makes it a little better because you’ll have your home crowd there as well as eliminating some of the travel. Having a little more success in the spring season is important.”

Creating more offense for Greer is paramount, McKenzie said. Obtaining any kind of cushion on the scoreboard can ensure one mistake pitch left out over the plate doesn’t do in a club. Each of the Wildcats participates in competitive ASA softball, which plays at least twice as many games during the summer than during the spring. Extra plate appearances and additional hacks over the next three months for the likes of Whetstine, Alto and Munson will be money deposited in the bank for next spring. Additionally, Westview’s roster takes a year-round advanced weight training class that was the driving force behind six different Wildcats (five who are returning next year) hitting home runs this year.

Greer can improve too, according to McKenzie, by developing another go-to pitch to accompany that wicked riseball that wore down opponents.

“She’s a kid who’s going to work hard to get better,” said McKenzie. “I know she’ll be working on another out pitch, whether it’s something off-speed or using her change-up more. She’s just going to keep getting better, and that’s a really good thing. She’s feeling confident about her pitches, but still wants to improve.”