Freshmen energy needed on Beaver Softball team, 2023 season preview


Jason May

In an archived photo from the 2022 softball season, junior infielder Grace Messmer creates contact on a pitch from Arizona’s pitcher. Messmer is now one of only eight upperclassmen on the Beavers’ roster this season.

Ryan Harlan, Sports Writer

Last season, Beaver Softball made their second appearance in the Women’s College World Series, the appearance for the Beavers in the WCWS was during the 2006 season. However, the Beavers’ run would be short in the WCWS as they suffered losses to both Arizona and Florida in the opening rounds of the tournament to close out the 2022 softball season.  

“The experience of being at the WCWS and playing at the highest level against the best has added motivation to this off-season. As a returner the feeling of being in that environment is something I want all the new faces to feel,” said Savannah Whatley. “We are more focused on how it brings good attention to our program. Last year was the start of putting our program on the map, and we are all working to set the standard of excellence and leave our legacy on this program.” 

The biggest challenge for Beaver Softball in returning to the WCWS is replacing the two-way production on the field and leadership of pitcher Mariah Mazon, who played five seasons for the Beavers and graduated after the conclusion of the 2022 season as the all-time leader in strikeouts. 

The Beavers will certainly miss Mazon’s presence on the team this season, but in her absence, there have been opportunities for people to take leadership roles on the team including returning players. According to Whatley, pitcher Sarah Haendiges has stepped into a similar leadership role that Mazon had last season.

“This year I have seen a lot of people step up and take on that leadership role. We do not have captains because our coaches believe that we all have the ability to lead in one capacity or another,” said Whatley. “This off-season I have been impressed with the way Sarah Haendiges has stepped up for our team. I wouldn’t say she is filling Mariah’s (Mazon) shoes because they are two completely different people and leaders. Sarah leads in her own way and has stepped up to become that unspoken “captain” we all look up to.

Haendiges last season started 23 games as a freshman and tallied 133 strikeouts while in the circle. The Beavers will likely be relying on Haendiges starting most games this season in the circle in addition to appearances from pitchers Tarni Stepto and Jenna Birch.

Even with the challenge of filling Mazon’s role, the goal for the team remains the same for the team despite having new faces on the team from both incoming freshman and transfers and that is making it back to the WCWS. 

“I think every year there is a new team no matter how many people stay or go. I wouldn’t say our energy is the same but it is very similar. I think the new faces bring a fresh energy and it’s exciting to see how they are bringing new ideas into our present culture and energy,” said Whatley. “The expectations remain the same with a few minor changes. Of course, we have a set culture but to be successful and on the same page we sit down and all talk about it as a whole. We discussed what we believed needed to stay our core values and what we needed to change and be better this year.”

As with any season, injuries occur and there have been key injuries to important contributors for the Beavers this season. One of those players that will not play this season for the Beavers is Kiki Escobar, who is out for the season with an undisclosed injury suffered before the start of the season. 

Whatley is also out for the season with an undisclosed injury after playing in the LSU Softball Invitational in a matchup against LSU, which ended in a 12-0 loss for the Beavers. Before suffering a season-ending injury, Whatley was working on improving her defense and hitting during the offseason to help benefit the success of the team in games this season. 

“In the off-season, I have been working on cleaning up the amount of errors I have on the field. As well as boosting my overall batting average to help the team be successful. The team as a whole has been working on doing the little things right and learning how to best utilize our strengths to win,” Whatley said. 

When players go down with an injury, there are opportunities for others to step up and play multiple positions when called to do so during the season. The freshman class for Beaver Softball will be relied upon to contribute to the success of the team like last season with notable freshmen that have found big roles this season including Kaiea Higa, Madyson Clark, and Morgan Howey.  

Although there are fewer holes on the roster this year for the team Higa, Clark, and Howey have been able to find their way into the starting lineup and Whatley likes what she’s seen from the freshman class so far.  

“The freshman class we have this year is extremely talented. They are all able to adjust on the fly and play multiple positions when asked. They also contribute by bringing a fresh energy and a fun atmosphere to the team and they have already stepped up and filled some big roles this year,” Whatley said about the freshman class for Beaver Softball. “In the off-season, they have pushed us all to be better and made it challenging to keep and earn positions. It’s exciting to see the success they are having already so early; this is a freshman class I am confident will help our program grow.” 

The Beavers play 11 teams that made it into the NCAA softball tournament last season including two teams that made it to the Women’s College World Series. The Beavers also play 12 home games this season and open PAC-12 Conference play with a three-game series against Utah on March 10. Oregon State will also host Oregon in the rivalry series at Kelly Field this season on March 31 and the Beavers end their season with a three-game series against Arizona State scheduled for May 7.

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