By DAVIS CARBAUGH • The Observer
LA GRANDE — The Tigers are on the cusp on finishing off a highly productive regular season.
The La Grande softball program has put together a strong regular season, nearing the conclusion of the year near the top of the 4A state rankings. With a mix of senior leadership and young talent, teamwork and versatility have played a major role in the team’s success.
“Everybody has really understood their roles and been flexible,” senior Grace Neer said. “I think we’re finally going to get solid in our roles.”
The Tigers are 13-5 overall and 9-1 in league play through 18 games, with just five matchups remaining in the season. After starting the season 1-4 in the midst of a smaller than usual roster, La Grande has found a rhythm in league play. The Tigers have won 12 of their last 13 games, climbing to No. 3 in the OSAA 4A rankings as of Tuesday, May 10.
The Tigers are set to host their senior day against Baker/Powder Valley on May 13, honoring three players in their final seasons. With eight underclassmen on the roster, the team’s core senior leaders — Neer, Kinzy Bowen and Keayra Krantz — have all played a key role in the team’s success.
Neer has been the reliable ace in the pitcher’s circle for La Grande, accumulating a 6-2 record on the year with a 3.11 ERA. The College of Idaho commit has tallied 80 strikeouts across 54 innings, allowing only 35 hits. At the plate, Neer leads the Tigers with 34 RBIs.
According to Neer, the team’s ability to wear a number of hats and step up when needed has had a noticeable impact on La Grande’s success.
“I think people have definitely stepped up into their roles,” Neer said. “We’ve had a lot of different infields and a lot of different outfields, but people have really stepped up.”
For Bowen, building team chemistry has been a point of emphasis for the whole roster. She noted that with just 15 players on the team, off-the-field bonding has translated to success on the field.
“We’re really just working together and talking to each other out there,” Bowen said. “We’re doing a lot of team bonding. Being close helps a lot, especially in trusting each other on the field.”
Bowen, an Oregon State commit, leads the team with eight home runs and has totaled 34 RBIs and 23 runs. She has hit .449 on the year and been the team’s staple in the outfield.
Krantz did not have an ideal senior season, suffering a year-ending injury in the first game of the season, but the senior has made the best of her role. As a utility player, the senior aims to observe small improvements from the sidelines and help the team in any way she can.
“It’s mentally a little upsetting, but I like being here and cheering on the girls because I think that’s the best thing possible,” Krantz said. “I’m going to continue to support them, because I know they’d do the exact same.”
Krantz also noted that the team has stayed close through highs and lows this year, even learning from mistakes — she stated that a loss to Ontario on April 29 was a large motivator.
“We recognize how bad we felt as a team, reconnected and worked on it going forward,” Krantz said.
As all three seniors look toward the postseason, each athlete shares a common goal for the team: a state title push. The first step will be a run at the Greater Oregon League title, to which Ontario and La Grande have been neck and neck.
“I think we have high hopes,” Neer said of the upcoming postseason. “Everyone has learned on the fly this year and been really flexible and coachable.”
“I’m hoping we can play our best and see how it goes,” Bowen said. “You never know how other teams will come out and how we’ll do, but I think we’ll do pretty good.”
La Grande’s senior day doubleheader against Baker/Powder Valley is scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 13, with the action taking place at Pioneer Park. The Tigers’ regular season officially ends on May 20, with a road matchup at Pendleton/Griswold.