Buffs have plenty to work with

by: JEFF WILSON/THE PIONEER - Junior shortstop Shelby Mauritson carried a big bat for the White Buffalos this fastpitch season. The official end to the 2014 fastpitch softball season came Saturday when state titles were won and lost on the campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis. But for Madras, things are just beginning.

On the heels of an 11-14 season that saw the White Buffalos fall just short of the Class 4A state playoffs, coach Charlie Brown likes where his team is headed. And he knows things can only move in one direction: Up.

“The coaches are really happy with the improvement this team made, from the beginning of the season to the end,” Brown said. “The kids really came together as a team. At the end, there was no one being selfish. “

Brown, a long-time ASA coach that took the Madras job on an interim basis, is excited about the Buffs future. He said the foundation for a long and successful run has been laid and all the pieces are in place.

The Buffs just need to take the next step. And that step seems to be there for the taking.

Madras finished fourth in the tough Tri-Valley Conference with a record of 7-8. There were moments of brilliance mixed in with moments of utter disaster throughout the season, but a core group of girls return with a strong desire to make things work.

“I feel like we can be one of the top teams in the league,” junior shortstop Shelby Mauritson said. “We just have to play better.”

That was one of the key areas that cost the Buffs a playoff spot this year: consistent play. This team was as up-and-down as a teeter totter.

After starting the season 4-6, Madras opened conference play with a pair of loses against the two teams that would end up on top of the league, Gladstone and La Salle. The season seemed doomed from the start, but the Buffs would put together a string of wins that put them within a game of first place in the league standings.

But they would get no closer.

A pair of devastating losses to North Marion — Madras held late leads in both — would put the team in a hole it could not escape from. Needing to win its final four games to secure a play-in berth, the Buffs would go 2-2.

Brown, who stepped in to replace Shawna McConnell, who resigned in 2013 to concentrate on getting a master’s degree, was pleased with the outcome.

“The girls did a great job,” Brown said. “They didn’t give up at all and played hard all the way to the end. I was very impressed with them.”

And if Brown returns, he said he will if asked, he will have plenty to work with.

The Buffs lose just one senior, Elise Bagley, and will return a potent offensive lineup as well as strong pitching rotation.

Mauritson led Madras in hitting, carrying a .478 average throughout league play and got on base at a .520 clip. She also led the team in extra-base hits and RBI.

Keeley Brown also swung a big bat for the Buffs and looks to build on a .370 batting average. In all, Madras had four players that hit above .375 during the league season and combined for 41 extra base hits.

But this team is not just about offense.

One of the strengths that the Buffs have coming back is pitching, especially with Jasmyn Reese and Chloe Martin.

Reese was the dominate force for Madras in the pitching circle and should be the team’s go-to arm next year. The sophomore struck out 106 batters during conference play and could be one of the league’s top throwers in 2015. Add in Martin, a freshman with tons of potential, the Buffs could be dominate.

“We have a ton to work with and build on,” Brown said. “I know the girls just want to get better. They had a great time this year and the desire and want to be better is there.

“They are extremely motivated,” Brown said. “They are a very different team at the end of year than the one they started out as.”

Like all the coaches at Madras, Brown is under a one-year contract. He has said from the beginning that he is keeping the coaching seat warm for McConnell until she returns.

But he wants another year with this group. And he feels they can do something special.

“If I get asked back, I will be back,” Brown said.

That will be up in the air for a while since Madras athletic director Rory Oster resigned this week.

But if the Buffs are to make a playoff run next year, continuity would help.

“I like playing for him,” Mauritson said. “I hope he comes back.”

Six Buffs named all conference

Madras was well represented on the Tri-Valley All Conference team.

Mauritson, Brown and Martin were named to the first teamwhile Reese and Elysia Maron were named to the second team. Bagley was a honorable mention selection.

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