Rangers can’t grasp win at softball NWAACCs

This year’s NWAACC Softball Tournament was all about capitalizing on opportunities. Unfortunately for the Olympic College Rangers, that was easier said than done.

The Rangers saw their season come to an end last Friday at Delta Park in Portland, Ore., falling 4-1 to Walla Walla and 14-12 to Gray’s Harbor in the double-elimination tournament.

And while both games were close, OC coach Clay Blackwood said he wouldn’t say they were necessarily strong.

“They both were,” Blackwood said. “I don’t want to say they were good games, but they were competitive.”

In the first game, Ranger starter Brittany Wilkinson pitched a three-hitter, with all four runs crossing unearned.

“We just couldn’t score,” Blackwood said. “We had the bases loaded in the top of the sixth with one out. The ball was hit right at the third baseman. Catch, tag, end of the inning. We were threatening there. One big hit gets us back in the game.”

And while the offense showed up big against Gray’s Harbor, the team couldn’t quite shut the door on the Chokers. The Rangers (24-23 overall) were trailing in the top of the sixth again when Blackwood challenged them.

“So I told ’em, ‘You better respond.’ Sure enough, we did,” he said.

The Rangers scored six runs on the frame, fueled by a 3-run bomb by former Central Kitsap High’s Brittany Waldon.

“But we went back out and handed those four right back,” Blackwood said. “We just couldn’t hold leads. We weren’t playing well enough defensively to hold a lead. We just let them hang around instead of putting them away.”

While the performance wasn’t what he was hoping for, he still saw a lot this season to be happy about.

“It wasn’t bad. I’m glad we made it back to the tournament,” Blackwood said. “With the squad we had this year, our hitting was a little disappointing. We had good hitters. And Brittany having to throw every inning was tough.”

Waldon joins Emily Cox and Brandie Jones as the team’s three graduating sophomores. All three also were named to the 2007 NWAACC Northern Region Second Team.

Waldon will continue her softball career next for Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C. The former Cougar hit .407 with three homers and 34 RBI this season.

“Brittany Waldon has been just solid all year,” Blackwoood said. “She’s just a good kid. It’s very exciting. I think she’s gonna get an opportunity. She hit great for us this year. She’s gonna do well. She works so hard. She’s been a big plus for this team.”

Cox batted .348 for OC, adding three homers and 24 RBI. She also had a .523 on-base percentage.

“She had a great sophomore year,” he said of the Peninsula High alumna. “She hit one of our highest batting averages and had our highest on-base (percentage). She had a solid year.”

As for Jones, a Klahowya grad, Blackwood said he was very pleased with her conversion to the unfamiliar territory of second base this season. She also hit .340 with 8 homers and 31 RBI.

“Brandie stepping up and playing a position she never played before, that was huge,” Blackwood said. “And she did great with the bat.”

The team will lose some non-sophomores as well, as both Candace Peterson

(.394, 2, 20) and Becky Hardison (Klahowya; .241) will leave OC to pursue other opportunities. Hardison aims to be a beautician while Peterson is planning to venture into law enforcement, Blackwood said.

In addition, Blair Blooomfield, a .367 hitter, will return home to Alaska.

But that still leaves a returning core of Wilkinson, Renee Blankenship (both were North second-teamers as well), Katie Robertson (a South Kitsap alumna), Niki Winburn and Jordan Cottingham.

The Rangers have stayed active in the early offseason, signing a number of strong players already, including Central Kitsap’s battery of Erika Quint and Amy Renfrow. The team also has inked Renae Stockwell (Canby, Ore.), Brianna Banning (Service, Ala.; for softball and volleyball), South Kitsap’s Kali Butler and Natalie Pea, and the Peninsula trio of Carolyn Edenbo, Keri Leaverton and Michelle Bowles.

“I think for softball, this is by far the best class of athletes coming in,” Blackwood said. “I’m excited to get them out there and see how much talent we really have.”

Combined with the returners and a few players yet to sign Blackwoood is excited by next season’s potential.

“It’s a good mix,” he said. “The group is going to be very exciting. We’ve got pitching coming in. We’ve got some very athletic, strong bats and defensive players. And we’ve got a few more spots I’d like to fill.”

And with this season’s veterans coming back with a year of tourney experience under their belts, Blackwood said he hopes that translates into an even more successful 2008.

“I hope so. I think that’s always the big goal,” he said. “I think they’ve got an idea of what’s going on down there. Hopefully they come in refocused and not just get back there, but place. The potential is high with the recruiting class we’ve got to do well.”

OC women’s hoops job open once again

It didn’t take long for OC women’s hoops coach Leslie Weaver to find her stepping stone.

Weaver, whose first and last season came this winter, is headed to Defiance College in the Ohio town of the same name. The trip is more of a homecoming as Weaver came to OC as a former collegiate player in Ohio and a high school coach in the state.

While she had initially planned on being at OC longer, she couldn’t pass up the opportunistic package Defiance offered. Weaver will be a graduate assistant coach at Defiance, where she’ll have room, tuition and more covered as she finishes her master’s degree.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction of what I want to do,” Weaver said. It’ll get me my master’s and get me closer to my goal of coaching at a four-year (university).”

While the Rangers were just 5-21 last season, Weaver said the team was successful in other ways, adding that she too learned a lot in the process.

“I feel like I learned a lot of valuable lessons coaching at the collegiate level,” she said. “How to put a team together, lead a team. We didn’t necessarily have a lot of success by wins, but we certainly succeeded in other areas.”

Weaver joined the team late last year, having to pick up the recruiting slack. She said OC will try to hire a new coach soon to keep the same situation from happening, having already inked two players including Lincoln High School’s Dorothy Wood. Weaver said both signees still plan on attending.

“That’s the plan,” she said. “The kids are still interested in the program. And we’ve got a good core coming back. I just hope (OC athletic director) Barry (Janusch) can find a good coach and keep building here.”

Aside from the team itself, Weaver said she grew accustomed to and will miss Washington state.

“I did. I’m gonna miss the climate I think,” she said. “I like the snow. But the rain never really bothered me. And there’s no thunderstorms, no humidity. Washington is beautiful. I definitely enjoyed my time out here.”

Ultimately, Weaver said she enjoyed her time as a Ranger.

“I just appreciate the support I had from the community,” she said. “I hope they give the same support to the next coach. The team looks to be competitive. I’d be very surprised if they’re not in the top four next year.”

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