College Softball: Graham a Standout at Oregon Tech
BALANCING ACT: Former Bearcat Star Balances School and Softball
By Aaron VanTuyl
There wasn’t much of a learning curve for Ali Graham.
The 2015 W.F. West High School graduate was an immediate hit on the softball field for the Oregon Institute of Technology. Now at the midway point of her college career, she’s balancing her sport of choice and her studies with an eye on the future.
She recently interviewed for admittance to Oregon Tech’s radiology program, and she expects to hear back in July.
“Academically wise, it’s a perfect fit,” she said, of heading south to Klamath Falls for school. “That’s where I saw my future going, and I get to play softball, so it’s like a bonus.”
She was practicing with her summer select team when a coach gave her the heads-up that Oregon Tech was looking for a pitcher. Owls coach Greg Stewart was soon in touch, and after a visit Graham was in.
Adapting to the level of competition in the NAIA wasn’t much of a challenge, after four years of varsity ball at W.F. West — with two state championships — and playing select ball the rest of the year.
“I knew my high school team was one of the best — they are the best, in Washington, in my opinion — and being a part of that competitiveness in a high school team just helps the transition to select ball,” she said. “The team I was a part of played (NCAA Division I) caliber select teams, where pretty much every single girl was going D-I. It was nice to know I was playing the best of the best.”
Her freshman campaign showed she was ready. She batted .413 with nine homers and 44 RBIs, along with a 2.85 ERA and a 10-8 pitching record. She hit .448 in CCC play to win both the league’s Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year awards.
The Owls went 30-22, reaching the opening round of the NAIA championships.
“All the upperclassmen were so nice, and so supporting. We all thought it was funny, the first games of the year, me and another freshman out-hit all the upperclassmen on the team,” Graham said. “They were like, ‘We already know how this year’s gonna go.’”
The key, she said, was just taking it easy.
“I didn’t stress too much on how I hit or pitched,” she said. “I just wanted to have fun.”
The awards, though, were a nice bonus. In addition to the CCC awards, she was named a National Fastpitch Coaches Association NAIA All-West Region first team, and landed on the NAIA All-American second team.
“I was honestly shocked,” she said. “I was just really pleased with how I did the whole year. I must have really shown the people who decided that that I was worth it.”
The Owls went 36-17 this season, with a 9-7 mark in CCC play. They went 3-2 in the CCC tournament and 2-2 in the Costa Mesa bracket of the NAIA playoffs, with their season coming to an end with a 7-0 loss to Marian University out of Indiana.
Graham hit .346, starting 50 of the team’s 53 games, with nine doubles, eight home runs and 37 RBIs. She notched a .553 slugging percentage with a .393 on-base percentage.
In the circle, meanwhile, she went 8-1 with one save and a 3.50 ERA in 86 innings, striking out 27 batters.
“We made it to the regional championship, and I think that’s a lot to be proud of,” she said of her sophomore season. “We had a lot of girls really step up this year, and just to see how well that team gelled — when we fired on all cylinders we were pretty unstoppable. It was a pretty good year.”
The academic side of things and a supportive community on campus have made her first two years at Oregon Tech great, she added.
“They love the softball team and all of our sports teams, and they were really understanding, and I don’t have to stress about what I’m missing,” she said. “That was really nice, not having to stress any about school when I was gone.”
She’ll be back home in Chehalis working this summer, but said the Owls are looking strong next season, with a handful of new freshmen and junior transfers joining the team in 2018.
“Just looking at that whole team dynamic, with the girls coming back, I think we’re going to be pretty deadly,” she said.
Note: Graham said she texted former W.F. West softball coach Mike Keen to congratulate him on his recent retirement. Graham pitched in both the 2012 and 2015 State 2A championship games, as a freshman and a senior. “He was just a great coach and really helpful in letting the girls lead our own way,” she said, adding that the team pulled plenty of pranks on their coach. “He was a great sport. When you’re dealing with girls you have to be pretty good, and he did a great job.”