OSU freshman catcher Kayleen Shafer is no stranger to big moments

Josh Worden Senior Beat Reporter

Bottom of the ninth inning, tie score, championship game, runner on third base.

It wasn’t a dream. It was the situation Kayleen Shafer faced in California’s CIF softball championship in 2014.

She was also facing a tremendous pitcher in Miranda Viramontes, a Utah commit and future All-Pac-12 Freshman First Teamer who hadn’t allowed a hit the entire game that day.

No problem for Shafer — she calmly laced a single up the middle for the walk-off game-winner, and the victory cemented Mission Viejo High School’s national No. 1 ranking.

“It was indescribable,” Shafer said. “Probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had, and probably my best memory of softball so far in my career.”

Shafer is now the starting catcher at Oregon State,batting .330 this season with three home runs and a .505 slugging percentage as a true freshman.

Her experience from high school has helped. In fact, she paired her national championship at Mission Viejo with another on her club team in the Premier Girls Fastpitch 2014 National Championship.

“It made the transition from high school to college not as big of a jump, because I feel like a lot of the girls that I’m playing now in college I played with in high school and travel ball,” Shafer said.

It wasn’t always smooth for the 5-foot-5 catcher, though. In high school, she had trouble hitting certain pitches. She struggled to find a groove in the batter’s box, but she refused to let pitchers get the best of her.

“She has some of the greatest work ethic I’ve ever seen,” said Alysha Everett, a teammate at Mission Viejo who also plays for OSU now. “She worked on it so much so that when she got here, it wasn’t even a problem for her at all. Some of her best pitches she can hit now are the ones she couldn’t hit in high school.”

If Shafer’s hitting improvement is any indication, she just might be able to thrive in the face of unexpected developments at OSU. After all, Shafer came to Corvallis expecting to share time at catcher with senior Sammi Noland, who was supposed to finish her time at OSU helping Shafer ease into college softball.

That changed quickly; Noland played just four games in 2016 before being ruled out for the season with an elbow injury. All of a sudden, Shafer needed to step up.

So far this year, Shafer is in the top five on the team in fielding percentage, batting average, doubles and home runs.

“I was ready,” Shafer said. “On the field, I don’t really feel like a freshman. I feel like I’ve been here for awhile. I wasn’t worried at all.”

“The word I have for Kayleen is ‘wow,’” added freshman outfielder Shelby Weeks. “I’m surprised. I know the whole team is surprised. I’m ready to watch her play back there for four years, that’s going to be fun to watch.”

But even this season hasn’t been perfect. The biggest issue for the freshman, says head coach Laura Berg, is overcoming her shyness.

“When she first got here, she was very reserved, very black and white,” Berg said. “She’s had to work out of that and come out of her shyness. She’s had to realize this game isn’t black and white, there’s a lot of gray area. We can’t be a robot when you play this game. You’ve got to read it, you’ve got to read the situations.”

Those areas are made even more important because Shafer is a catcher. She needs to have a harmonious relationship with OSU’s pitchers every game, even calming them down or encouraging them when the need arises. Berg has noticed the solid “command” Shafer has behind the plate, which didn’t take long to develop. In fact, it only took one weekend of collegiate softball before Shafer settled in.

“I kind’ve realized that college ball is very similar to the level of travel ball that I was playing at,” she said.

If Shafer can continue her success over four years, she’ll provide a consistency at the catcher position that OSU hasn’t had since 2013. After Ally Kutz graduated that year, true freshman Kylie Padilla earned the starting role in 2014 but transferred after the season and last year’s starter, Hannah Akamine, graduated after the 2015 season.

Shafer would like to make that impact in Corvallis. After all, she already has two national championships to her name, and those accolades have made her hungry for success at the collegiate level.

“It makes me want the same thing here,” she said. “I think we have a great team, we have a lot of talent, and I would love to go the World Series with my team.”

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