Oregon State softball confident in this year’s roster

The+Beaver+softball+team+chant+the+Oregon+State+fight+song+to+the+crowd+after+winning+their+first+game+of+the+series+against+the+Arizona+Wildcats+inside+Kelly+Field%2C+April+8.

Kayla Jones, OMN Photographer

The Beaver softball team chant the Oregon State fight song to the crowd after winning their first game of the series against the Arizona Wildcats inside Kelly Field, April 8.

Ben Pahl , Sports Contributor

The Oregon State softball team has been a prime example of how hard work and dedication in the offseason can flip a program on its axis.

In the spring of 2021, the Beavers finished with an unfulfilling season. Going 20-26 overall, they finished just 7-17 in conference.

In context, their PAC-12 performance might not be as bad as the numbers indicate. As part of their conference slate the Beavers had to play four different top 10 opponents, and they were able to come away with a few impressive victories over elite opposition, despite never winning any of those series. However, strength of schedule was far from the only factor holding the Beavers back last season.

“We lost a lot of people from last year that weren’t bought in,” said Oregon State Head Softball Coach Laura Berg. “You talk about a culture change and yes, there definitely has been a culture change.  A lot of negativity, a lot of negative people are gone, and these guys want to show the world that we can compete.”

Up to this point, the Beavers certainly have proven they’re hungry to earn respect.  Currently ranked #19 in the country, Oregon State holds a 31-10 overall record and is 7-6 in the grueling PAC-12 conference.

Despite only having three seniors on last season’s roster, this year’s squad certainly looks different. In order to weed out the negativity described by Berg, the Beavers have a whooping 12 newcomers on this year’s team. These roster changes seem to be paying off.

“I think the difference here is that the new people came in hungry,” said Oregon State junior infielder Frankie Hammoude.  “We aren’t just expecting to lose to ranked opponents, we want to prove something and I think as a group we’re trying to make some noise.”

From early in the season, Oregon State certainly has been making some noise. After a 2-1 extra-innings loss to South Dakota State University, the Beavers responded by going on a 12-game win streak, which included wins over University of Iowa, University of Tennessee and Baylor University. Despite being swept by #10 ASU in their first conference series, the Beavers rebounded by winning their next two series against Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley.

Without a doubt, one of the biggest factors in this season’s turn-around has been pitching. As a team, the Beavers hold a remarkable 1.99 ERA. Prior to last week’s loss to the University of Arizona Wildcats, Oregon State had surrendered just four runs in their previous nine contests, eight of those games being against PAC-12 opposition.

In particular, Oregon State senior pitcher Mariah Mazon and Oregon State freshman pitcher Sarah Haendiges have been the two standouts on the hill for Oregon State this season. Over 103.2 innings pitched, Mazon holds a phenomenal 1.13 ERA with 133 strikeouts to just 18 walks. Haendiges has put up similar numbers, holding a 1.63 ERA with 103 strikeouts over 93.2 innings pitched. In addition, sophomore Tarni Stepto has pitched 70 innings for the Beavers this season. Berg knows just how valuable their performances have been.

“I think that’s where the game starts, is in the circle,” Berg said. “I know we’ve been without Tarni for a couple of weeks now, but the three of them together have been quite the force, and it’s probably the most depth we’ve had in the circle since I’ve been here.”

On the offensive side of things the Beavers haven’t been as effective, however they certainly have producers in that area as well.  Oregon State junior infielder Frankie Hammoude is batting a phenomenal .426 with 11 home runs and a .524 on base percentage. Oregon State freshman infielder Kiki Escobar is second on the team in batting average hitting .382, and Mazon is batting .370 with five home runs.

When asked if her approach would change going into the tough last stretch of the schedule, Hammoude didn’t reveal much.

“No, I try to just be patient,” Hammoude said. “I know that I’m not going to see a lot of great pitches, as per usual. I just gotta stay within myself, not try to make something happen, just let it happen and hit when I need to hit.”

Despite the success the Beavers have had to this point, Berg and her players are well aware that they have yet to face the toughest part of their conference schedule. Over the next few weeks Oregon State will take on three ranked opponents, consisting of #15 Washington, #5 UCLA and #20 Oregon.

“Going through a schedule like this is nothing new to these guys, it’s the PAC-12 conference,” Berg said.  “We’re just about to go through the gauntlet again, with University of Washington, University of California Los Angeles, then University of Oregon. The game doesn’t care who’s across the field from you in the other dugout, you still gotta go out and still gotta pitch it, still gotta hit it, still gotta field it and throw it.”

Despite the Beavers’ current ranking, a postseason berth is anything but ensured, and these last four series will be a huge determining factor as to where they stand in regards to the NCAA tournament. Although it’s been a successful turn-around from last season, this team is not satisfied with where they currently stand.

“I think we can make it to the world series,” said Hammoude. “This team has a lot of fight, and we’re not just gonna roll over and give up, we’re gonna scratch, punch and do whatever we can till the very last pitch.”

A postseason berth is looking probable for the Beavers at this point, depending on the outcome of these remaining four series. The NCAA college softball tournament will begin with regionals on May 21.