Despite the Saints softball team picking up two wins over Grays Harbor on Tuesday, their season will come to an end today, having fallen short of the NWAC playoffs.
It’s a harsh reality for a program that has competed in the last three NWAC championship finals and won two of them, in 2014 and 2016. But those were under head coach Meadow McWhorter, who now runs the NCAA Division I Portland State squad.
This season at MHCC, new coach Brittany Hendrickson led the team and it certainly had its ups and downs. Early in conference play the Saints struggled, getting a very slow 1-7 start. Unfortunately for Mt. Hood, the sputtering start was too much to turn around. Since then, the team has gone 9-8 in conference play, bringing them to a 10-15 record, which places them second-to-last in the South Region.
The only team the Saints lead is the Grays Harbor Chokers, who have yet to pick up a win in the South all season.
Mt. Hood was able to enjoy pounding that team on Tuesday, in a doubleheader played in Aberdeen, Washington.
In the opener, the Saints blasted 17 hits (and took advantage of 10 Grays Harbor errors) and poured it on with a 20-3 win that came in only five innings, thanks to the NWAC 10-run mercy rule. MHCC also took Game 2, after catcher Grace Helyer came through with a two-run double in the fourth inning for the final runs in a 7-2 victory.
In no way are the Saints the second-worst team in the league, however. Depending on today’s results, Mt. Hood could finish in the middle of the pack in the South Region. They stand just a half-game back of Chemeketa, which sits in fifth place.
Still, it’s hard not to look at this season as disappointing, since Mt. Hood has become known for their softball excellence.
What’s key to remember about this season is it’s the first year under a new coach. And with that comes a lot of changes, for better or worse. It doesn’t in anyway mean the program is in trouble, it simply means the Saints didn’t reach the playoffs this year. Hendrickson proved with the team’s more recent play the Saints can compete with any team in this league. Just a month ago, they defeated the top team in the South, Southwestern Oregon (currently 21-4 in conference play).
Against those same Lakers, the Saints will have three opportunities to prove they can compete with them (there’s one makeup game, plus doubleheader, scheduled). It’s another chance to showcase just how strong Mt. Hood has been in the last few weeks.
Leading the recent surge have been a pair of freshman, which signals the Saints appear to be on the right course. Helyer stands out as one a key player, as she sits fifth in the NWAC in home runs, with 13. She’s also leading the team in batting average, at .402, and leads the team in RBIs with 42. Shortstop Makiah Johnson is another first-year player who has killed it this season. She’s third on the team in batting average at .400,, third on the team in home runs with three, and third on the team in RBIs, with 28.
If the Saints can count on Heyler and Johnson coming back next season, they definitely have solid cornerstones for the team to build around and return to the playoff chase.