LA GRANDE — When the Eastern Oregon University softball team is able to take the field again in 2021, it’ll have another La Grande Tiger on its squad.

LHS senior Jacie Howton, an infielder for the two-time defending state champions, signed her letter of intent March 10 to stay at home and play for the Mountaineers, fulfilling a dream she has had from a young age to play college softball.

“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to stay home and play, but I think recently, once they got a new coach and started to see the program turn around, I wanted to be part of the rebuild and get the program back where it should be,” she said.

She is currently the third player with LHS ties in the program, joining 2019 LHS graduate Alaina Carson and Brittney Bertrand, who played for LHS before transferring to Century High School in Hillsboro. More Tigers could join the team as well.

“It’ll be cool to see more local girls on this team,” Howton said.

EOU head coach Nicole Christian watched Howton from the other dugout for three years while she was head coach at McLoughlin, and she believes Howton will help move Eastern in the direction the coach is hoping.

“She’s just one of those hometown kids who is a great kid overall, and we’re trying to change the culture here,” Christian said. “We want the kids who want to work hard. La Grande is a very competitive program. When we played them, she was one of those kids we had to watch out for. She has a great glove, a great bat — just dedicated to the program.”

Howton, in joining EOU, not only will be playing for the coach of a former rival but will get to learn from arguably the best infielder to don a glove at Eastern, which is perfect for Howton.

“It’s cool. It’s not someone I don’t know, or don’t know the expectations,” Howton said of getting to play for Christian. “I’ve seen her successful program at Mac-Hi (and) I’m really excited to learn from her just based off her past experiences and her experience from coaching.”

Howton is in the process of recovering from surgery for a torn right meniscus, but does not foresee it being an issue.

The LHS senior said she is excited to discover how much she can grow at the college level.

“I really want to challenge myself and play better teams, play a lot more and see how much I can improve,” she said, adding she is really looking forward to developing on the “defensive side. I really love playing defense and fielding.”

Christian added the biggest change for Howton likely will be adjusting to the speed of the college game.

“The big thing is just the different level...competition wise. Coming in as a freshman, there’s a lot more to college softball,” Christian said.

“The pace is a little bit faster. In the fall the girls (this year) got a little bit of a taste. Now (for) these freshmen playing for me it’s a little faster but they’re making that change. That’s what I expect her to do.”

East Region Sports Editor

Ronald's primary beats are Eastern Oregon University, La Grande High School and the other eight high schools of Union and Wallowa counties. As an avid sports fan, he is primarily reading about or watching sports when he isn't covering a game.

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