Worden: Softball returning to the postseason

Josh Worden Senior Beat Reporter

Oregon State softball team, meet the postseason. Postseason, this is the OSU softball team.

I think you both met each other a few years ago, but it’s been a while. Maybe you two will hit it off really well.

Okay, you get the idea. It’s been a long time coming for the Beavers, who haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2013 but officially ended that drought Sunday by being selected in the Auburn Regional starting May 20.

OSU has momentum heading into the Regionals, after beating Arizona State this weekend twice — the third game was cancelled due to rain. Dating back to the series with No. 18 Arizona a week ago, OSU has won three of its last four.

And what better way to head into the postseason than after a highlight-ridden series against ASU, which included a walk-off hit in Thursday’s game to take a 1-0 win — how about the complete game shutout by freshman pitcher Meehra Nelson, too? — and then Nelson’s return to the pitcher’s circle on Friday to break the OSU single-season record with her seventh save in the 4-3 victory.

Heck, if the Regionals started Monday, the Beavers would probably be ready.

This feels a lot different than right before the ASU series, when the Beavers had already put themselves in position to make the NCAA Tournament no matter what, but still were in the midst of being throttled by a difficult conference schedule.

Standing at 28-18-1 overall but just 7-14 in Pac-12 games, OSU had been unable to make a move towards the top half of the conference standings.

“I know we had a tough Pac-12 conference and we didn’t really picture it going that way, but stuff happens,” said senior second baseman Mikela Manewa the day before the ASU series began. “In the beginning of the season, we were on fire. We were just having fun. Then we came to the Pac-12. The Pac-12 is hard. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But wait, isn’t this the team that was already on pace to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons? I mean, sure, winning just 33 percent of conference games isn’t great, but eight of the nine teams in the conference made the postseason this year. To finish sixth in the standings should actually be applause-worthy.

But Manewa wasn’t looking for a pat on the back. Nor are her teammates or head coach Laura Berg. Their goals aren’t just to make the NCAA Tournament and contentedly bow out in the opening round, complacently return home and feel good about all they accomplished.

They want to do more than that. Maybe win some games in the postseason. Sweep multiple Pac-12 teams. Beat every single nonconference team they’re favored against.

And to be fair, that hasn’t happened this season. The Beavers still had a successful year — excuse me, the Beavers are currently having a successful year — but they haven’t reached all their goals yet.

Silver lining: they’ve got a young team. They will only lose Manewa and pitcher Bev Miller to graduation and while those are two good players, there are teammates and incoming recruits that should be able to keep the motor running.

So, what about next season? It seems promising. Maybe a winning record in the Pac-12?

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. This year hasn’t even finished yet. But don’t blame me for peeking over the fence to the seemingly green grass on the other side, even if the grass on this side is pretty green, too.

But for this postseason, OSU has a chance to do something it can be proud of. Who’s to say Nelson can’t deal another complete game shutout in the Regionals like she did on Thursday against the Sun Devils?

Maybe junior first baseman Natalie Hampton will finally experience the postseason success she’s been waiting for. Plus, she now has more time to break her own OSU single-season record from 2013 of 50 runs batted in. She had gone nine straight games without an RBI until she notched her 48th of the season on Friday, which probably means she’s been purposefully setting herself up for a walk-off, three-RBI home run to simultaneously win a Regional game and break the record.

Okay, I digress — for the record, Hampton doesn’t care about the RBI record as much as she wants to win in the postseason.

Now, she’s got a chance to do both, and the OSU softball team finally gets to show what it can do in the NCAA Tournament.

OSU softball, I hope you have a nice time getting reacquainted with the postseason. If you play your cards right, you just might be able to meet her older sister: the College World Series.

On Twitter @BrightTies

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