College Softball: CC Softball Counting on Defense and Kinship
Getting to Know You: Area All-Stars Forget Old Rivalries, Forge New Bonds
By Jordan Nailon
The players on the Centralia College softball team are itching to go dancing again.
While they have undoubtedly been practicing their freshest boogie down moves inside the confines of their on-campus apartments, the real grind has been reserved for the diamonds, courts, and cages where they wiled away their offseason together.
In this case, the Big Dance the Trailblazers are looking forward to is a return to the NWAC championship tournament at the end of the season.
Last season Centralia earned an appearance in the big end of the year blowout as an 11-seed after surviving a season long sojourn through the gauntlet of the Southern Conference. Their 2018 season came to an end on that big stage when a pair of losses to Lower Columbia and Bellevue sandwiched a victory over Highline.
Centralia head coach Kevin Slorey noted that the road to the NWAC Tournament has never been a cakewalk and it’s only gotten more difficult in recent years. That’s because Centralia was forced to switch to the Southern Conference after numerous schools dropped their softball programs.
“We’re in the South now which is the toughest division. I mean it’s just loaded. The last two years six of the eight teams have made it to the NWAC Championships. It’s just dog eat dog,” explained Slorey.
Slorey added that he expects Mt. Hood and Lower Columbia to vie for the top spot in the conference. However, he has faith that his charges are up to the task of going tit for tat with some of the top programs in the region.
“I think the goal, just like always, is to make it to the NWAC Tournament,” said Slorey who added one caveat. “And to bring home a trophy, so finish in the top four.”
Slorey, who is in his fourth year as head coach and fifth year total with Centralia, says that his team features a good mix of returning players and greenhorns. In fact, the team is nearly split right down the middle with eight of 15 players coming back for their second year in blue and yellow.
Slorey says Dakota Brooks, a sophomore from Pe Ell, is as likely as anyone to put up a big season in the Hub City. Last year Brooks earned Player of the Year honors in the Southern Conference thanks to a series of strong pitching performances that buffered 20 home runs and 69 RBIs at the plate.
A pair of fighting Ducks from Toutle Lake were also tabbed by their coach as veteran players who he expects to put up big numbers again this season. Last year Britzy Hockett patrolled centerfield while batting over .400 and earning First Team All Conference recognition. Meanwhile, Shelby Levang held down the second base slot, slashed a batting average over .400 and garnered Second Team All-Conference honors. Jayden Benson, from Idaho, is another veteran who is expected to help power the Trailblazers excursion in 2019. Last year Benson batted over .300 while patrolling left field and reeling in recognition as a Second Team All-Conference player.
The list of big impact newcomers is also chock full of faces from around the area. Olivia Dean, formerly of W.F. West, is expected to slot in at shortstop and Jamie Carlson of Mossyrock will strap on the tools of ignorance behind the plate for the Trailblazers.
Jaedyn Shaughnessy, a Curtis High School alum, is a freshman who is expected to regularly toe the slab for the Trailblazers and Alyssa Jorgenson, a freshman from Shelton, is projected to hold down third base this season. Slorey also tabbed Keiley Higaki-Belaski, a sophomore hurler out of Hawaii, as another integral part of the Blazers’ identity on defense.
Southwest Washington softball fans will surely recognize several other faces on this year’s incarnation of the Trailblazers’ squad. Skylar Olson is a sophomore outfielder from Rochester and Meeghan Peters is a sophomore outfielder from Toledo. Adna’s own Devanie Kleemeyer, who is getting a late start on the diamond due to her presence on the women’s basketball team, will head to the outfield when she unties her sneakers for the final time.
A trio of freshman have also moved on from their high school diamonds to the Blazers’ home field at Borst Park. McKenna Smith, a Centralia alum, will try to get into the swing of things at first base while Maddie Thompson, a Napavine product, will see time at both second and third base.
“I think probably what’s going to carry us is going to be our defense,” said Slorey. “I think that they are a real close knit group. I think that’s going to benefit us down through the season. They’ve gelled real well already and I think one of the reasons is that a lot of them knew each other already, with a lot of those locals and 2B players.”
Slorey noted that his team will begin the season with 14 straight non-conference games. He hopes to use that time to evaluate the lineup and search for tweaks that could help add another accolade to the Centralia College trophy case. However, that doesn’t mean that the Trailblazers will be free to coast into the season carefree.
“Most of them come up at the front because once we get going we’re playing four league games a week,” explained Slorey. “The tough part about it is that you’ve really got to play to win becauses it still affects your RPI.”
On Saturday Centralia is scheduled to play Everett College and then Olympic College in Lacey at the Regional Athletic Complex with first pitches slated for 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. The Blazers first home games of the season are set for March 16 versus Clark College at Borst Park.