The Tualatin grad helped OIT claim the NAIA national softball crown
by: Kelly Caleb SMACK ATTACK — Tualatin grad Janelle Cromie gets her bat on the ball during an OIT game this season.

KLAMATH FALLS - Janelle Cromie played on some very good softball teams at Tualatin High School.

Cromie, after graduating from Tualatin High in 2008, also played on some very good squads at the College of the Siskiyous.

But that's nothing compared to the Oregon Institute of Technology softball team that Cromie played for this year.

That team was a championship team - a national championship team.

Cromie and her Oregon Tech teammates captured the NAIA title by scoring a 1-0 win over top-ranked California Baptist in the final game of the 2011 NAIA National Championship Tournament, held May 25 at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Nearly three months later, Cromie, who plays at first base for the Owls, still seems overjoyed by the accomplishment.

'It was one of the best feelings I've ever had,' Cromie said earlier this week after working as an instructor at an Oregon Tech summer softball camp. 'You can't go any higher than that. And to do that my first year here was a really nice treat.'

Cromie, when she played at Tualatin High School, was a Class 6A first-team all-state selection as an infielder.

Cromie then continued her scholastic softball career at the College of the Siskiyous, a community college located in Weed, Calif.

In her first year at the College of the Siskiyous, the team finished third in the state tournament. In Cromie's sophomore year at the school, the team placed fourth in state-tourney play.

In her sophomore season with the Eagles, Cromie hit for a .355 batting average with 16 home runs, 44 RBI and a .801 slugging percentage. She was named to the Golden Valley Athletic Conference all-league first team and her 16 home runs set a new single-season school record.

After that big sophomore season in California, Cromie opted to transfer to OIT.

'It was either here or to a college in Tennessee,' Cromie said. 'It's nice to be back in Oregon. I adjusted to Klamath Falls and the girls here on the team are really nice. I like it here.'

However - and Cromie seems to be the first one to admit this - her strong hitting performance at the College of the Siskiyous didn't totally carry over in her first season at OIT.

'My hitting was just off this year,' she said. 'I got down on myself early in the season. It wasn't my normal stuff.'

Still, Cromie, who started 46 games for the Owls in 2011, had her share of big hits for the team.

She belted a grand slam home run in an 8-0 win over Eastern Oregon University in a game played April 16 in Klamath Falls.

She also came through for the Owls during their 12-2 win over Corban University in the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament championship game held May 7 in Klamath Falls, ripping a two-run double to help OIT win the tourney title and the bid to the NAIA National Championship Tournament that went with it.

'That felt pretty good,' Cromie said.

OIT took a 35-12 record to the national tournament, where it went in ranked No. 15. But that didn't discourage the Owls, who had a bit of extra motivation to go as far as they could in the tournament.

'We wanted to stay in as long as we could so we could play on the beach,' Cromie said.

Mission accomplished.

The Owls opened the NAIA National Championships with a 1-0 win over Texas' Northwood on May 19. 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. That gave the team a 3-0 record in pool play, earning a top seed going into bracket play and, maybe more importantly, a day off.

'If you won your pool, you got a day off,' Cromie said. 'So we all went and played in the water. We went inner-tubing and enjoyed ourselves.'

But, soon after that, it was back to business for the OIT squad.

The Owls opened the double-elimination, bracket-play part of the tournament by scoring a 7-1 win over Lubbock Christian on May 23. Later that day, OIT bested Mississippi's Belhaven University 4-2.

In the May 24 winners' bracket final, the Owls scored a 1-0 win over California Baptist.

But 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.

However, with the national title on the line, the determined Owls weren't going to be denied.

'We just really wanted to beat them,' Cromie said. 'They felt they had it in the bag, but we knew we could win.'

The Owls did just that in the finale, getting a complete-game, four-hit shutout with seven strikeouts from senior pitcher Jackie Imhof and getting the game's only run when Shauna Collins opened the game with a single and later scored on Jess Plummer's two-out single to center field.

Following the final out of the game, OIT's victory celebration began.

'We all rushed to the mound,' Cromie said. 'Everyone went wild. But we didn't tackle each other - we didn't want anyone to get hurt. Some of the girls were crying. I couldn't stop smiling for 20 minutes.'

Nearly three months later, the championship is still making Cromie smile.

'We each got a championship plaque, and I have it in my room,' she said. 'I see it every day and feel real happy.'

Now, Cromie is already getting prepared for her senior season at OIT.

'I'm working hard this summer,' said Cromie, who is studying communications at the college. 'I'm working on my hitting a lot.'

She's also enjoying her time at the Klamath Falls college.

'It's a good school,' she said. 'There are a lot of smart people here.'

Smart people and national championship softball players.

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