Schaefer and Owls are the best
Southridge grad Kayde Schaefer leads OIT's softball team to gold
KLAMATH FALLS - There were some ups, and some downs, for Southridge grad Kayde Schaefer's OIT softball team this spring.
But the one thing that the Owls never lacked was confidence, and that confidence, along with a healthy dose of talent, lifted Schaefer and her teammates to the biggest 'up' of all - a victory in the 2011 NAIA Softball National Championship.
Schaefer, 21, a junior and the team's starting catcher, played a huge role in that success, which culminated with the team's 1-0 championship win over top-ranked California Baptist on May 25 at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex in Gulf Shores, Ala.
'It was super exciting,' said Schaefer, who was also a starter on Southridge's 2005 Class 6A state championship team. 'We knew we could win it. It was unbelievable.'
The Owls, winners of the Cascade Collegiate Conference, entered the NAIA playoffs following their 19-5 league campaign and carrying a 35-12 overall mark. But Schaefer and her teammates knew they were capable of even more.
'We just had a lot of confidence,' Schaefer said. 'We had confidence in our pitching, our hitting, our defense and our leadership. We blended together really well and we had confidence in all of us being able to do the job.'
And the Owls proved they were justified in that confidence, opening the NAIA National Championships with a 1-0 win over Texas' Northwood on May 19, with Schaefer going 1-for-3 at the plate. They made it two in a row on May 20 when they dumped Midland 3-0, then drilled second-ranked Trevecca Nazarrene 8-0 in the last game of pool play on May 21, with Schaefer going 2-for-2 at the plate with three RBIs.
'Once we won all three pool play games, we had a lot of confidence,' Schaefer said. 'And we beat the No. 2 team in the nation 8-0 - that showed us we could play with anyone.'
Lubbock Christian fell next in the first round of double-elimination play, with OIT winning 7-1 on May 23 behind two more Schaefer hits. Schaefer notched her third straight multi-hit game later that same day when she went 2-for-2 again in her team's 4-2 win over Mississippi's Belhaven University.
Schaefer stepped up again in the first of three games against Cal Baptist, hammering a leadoff homer in the sixth inning to beat the Lancers 1-0 on May 24.
But top-ranked Cal Baptist was far from done. The Lancers rallied past Belhaven 4-1 later on May 24, then came back on May 25 to rout OIT 7-0 and force a winner-take-all showdown later in the day.
Despite that first result, Schaefer said that she and her teammates never lost hope.
'All of us thought we were going to win,' she said. 'We told everyone we were going to win.'
Indeed, Schaefer and the Owls felt - you guessed it - confident heading into the final game of the season.
'We were feeling really loose,' she said. 'The first game we kind of gave to them with errors. But after that, we came back and we were just ready to play our game.'
The Owls did just that in the finale, getting a complete-game, four-hit shutout with seven strikeouts from senior pitcher Jackie Imhof - Schaefer's closest friend on the team - and getting the winning run when Shauna Collins opened the game with a single and later scored on Jess Plummer's two-out single to center field.
'The celebration was amazing. It was just great to be there with my teammates,' Schaefer said. 'And being there with Jackie Imhof - we've played together since we were 13 - was great. She was the one I was going to when it ended. It was amazing to get to finish with her in that game.'
Schaefer, who batted .294 overall for the season, was even better in the National Championship tournament, hitting .444 in OIT's eight games and earning an all-tournament selection for her efforts.
'I just saw the ball really well and had a great tournament,' she said. 'I really enjoyed having my bat come alive at the tournament and being able to help my team.'
Schaefer, a biology major, also won her second straight Cascade Conference Gold Glove award this year, was third on her team in home runs (five), third in walks (16), fourth in RBIs (26), and first in both chances (379) and putouts (345).
It was quite a year.