The Lions are 8-1 in Northwest Oregon Conference play, and have given up just six runs since the beginning of April
When I wrote back in March that we should keep our fingers crossed regarding the St. Helens softball program, I couldn't begin to imagine what has happened in the last month.
They lost only one more of their preseason games over the next week, but finished off the non-league schedule with a bang: a brand new coach at the helm.
And it's a bit of a euphemism to say the transition from Jeff Edwards to Miranda Little has been smooth. It's been downright impressive.
Since the switch, which put the four-year assistant in charge of the program on an interim basis, the Lions have won their last six games, including eight of nine league contests.
The one loss, a 2-1 stinger to Sandy, wasn't even a reason for concern, according to Little. It was a tight game, and one got the feeling the result could have gone either direction. An inch difference here or there could have left St. Helens with a win in extra innings, and it seems clear the entire team understood they didn't need to change much.
We played great, said Little. We just came out on the bottom end.
Yep, they beat us. But if we keep doing what we're good at, we have a solid chance to beat em next time.
It's a big statement, but I think it works.
Sandy, with their No. 1 ranking and 16-5 record, is exactly who they were expected to be this season. Their 52 runs make for the second-best offense in Class 5A and the best in the Northwest Oregon Conference, but there's a caveat: since the beginning of April, they've given up 36 runs in 15 games.
St. Helens has given up six.
That's the difference junior Mariah Mulcahy has made on the mound, and while you can place a good heap of the credit for the team's turnaround in the last month and a half on her shoulders, it speaks greatly to the mental toughness this group has.
Mulcahy doesn't run from pressure. She embraces it. She thrives on it.
And what's more, the rest of the team feeds off that mindset. They haven't fallen asleep often, bolstered by the five one-hitters from Mulcahy and the growing number of homers produced by the four and five spots in the Lions' batting order.
With sophomore Taylor Leal batting cleanup and Mulcahy's bat ringing in at fifth, they have a solid chance of scoring when the pair bat in the same inning.
Taking the 7-0 win over Sherwood on May 2 for example, the Bowmen only got one strike out of Mulcahy and Leal combined in eight at-bats. They picked up three hits in that time, but made contact on every single attempt.
That's a scary combination for opposing pitchers, especially because Stevie Strawn and sophomore Ashley Geisbers are lightning quick, and usually bunt looking simply to get on base.
I won't say the offensive issues – of which Edwards expressed concern before the season began – are gone, but the Lions have definitely taken a step forward. And because St. Helens is graced with a leader like Mulcahy in the pitchers' circle, they don't need the offensive production.
All they need is one.