At a moment’s notice, Augusta softball coach Shane Steinkamp can rattle off the scenario.
Down 7-4. No outs. Bases loaded with three of the Orioles’ best hitters coming to the plate.
Ask him how often he thinks of that game—that 4A state championship game where the Orioles were one rally away from completing a perfect season—and his answer is emphatic.
“There’s always something out there for me that reminds me of it,” Steinkamp said. “And it’s not a negative thing. Did we have a chance with bases loaded, nobody out? But there’s something that makes you think about how that was just a special group of kids.”
He’s not the only one. Most of the Orioles hope for the chance to play DeSoto again and finish what they started a year ago.
“There’s not a play, an inning or anything that I don’t think about,” senior Katy Nordman said. “We should’ve had that so easily.”
While some players and coaches might choose to forget about it because it was last year, Steinkamp and the Orioles are doing just the opposite.
“I think you use it very much as motivation,” Steinkamp said. “You’re 23-1. Just happens that the last game you play, you lose. But you use that as motivation because they know what it takes to get there. They know the hard work and the effort that’s going to have to be there. And I don’t want them to forget about it. I want them to use it both positively, as in ‘What a year’ and negatively, as in ‘Second place sucks.’”
Do the Orioles expect another perfect season, though? Definitely not.
“I don’t think we’re going to go undefeated again this year, mostly because we have a lot of younger, more immature people,” said senior Casady Marlnee. “But, do I think we’re going to have a good season? Yes…And we have a huge target on our backs.”
Steinkamp kept his goal for the team very realisitic: Sweep at home, split on the road, as the old adage goes.
To get back to the promised land, the Orioles will have to blend in a returning infield and pitching staff along with a brand new outfield after graduating three seniors last year, including All-Stater Kalie Robinson. The Orioles are infusing young blood to take over those positions.
“We have really good chemistry. Some seniors discriminate against freshmen, but we love our freshmen,” Marlnee said. “…We’re all really close. We get along.”
Carley Phillips could be the key newcomer. She brings a lot of speed to the team and made some eye-popping catches during practices last week.
“I think we’re a little faster than we were a year ago. I think we’re going to try to run a little more,” Steinkamp said. “...Carley Phillips adds a lot of speed if she makes out for us in centerfield. I’d like to see her as our leadoff hitter.”
Morgan Kirk is more than capable of handling that, but Steinkamp would like to move her to the 2 spot in the lineup because she does so much with the bat. Kylie Wesbrooks, who started to see more and more playing time toward the end of last season, should be a key hitter if she earns an outfield spot.
Senior Abby Tipton brings a solid bat and an outstanding glove back to her second-base position. Nordman will take third. Both Tipton and Nordman, along with Marlnee—who will spend time in the outfield as well—all are going to play softball at the next level. Nordman, a four-year varsity starter, knows what it’s like to play as a young athlete alongside standouts like former Orioles Christina Downs as well as Kayla Clark and Tori Dehlinger.
“I understand that the seniors play a big role and they do set the example,” Nordman said. “So I’m prepared now, and I kind of understand what I need to do.”
Brooke Eberhardt and Megan Hayes return to bring probably the best 1-2 pitching duo around. Nicole Becker also should be a key thrower.
Lauren Fernz, a sophomore, will share time at catcher and the outfield.