ST. GEORGE, Utah — After losing to Salt Lake Community College in Game 2 of the national softball championship tournament, Howard College was tasked with the difficult chore of winning up to seven consecutive games against the stiffest competition in the nation in order to avoid elimination and keep its hopes of coming home the No. 1 ranked junior college softball squad in the country alive.
The Hawks' offense seemed up to the challenge after coming out on top of a veritable slug fest in Game 3 with Seminole State College, as they downed the Lady Raiders by a score of 12-9.
Game 4, however, went by way of Northeast Oklahoma A&M, as the Hawks found themselves on the short end of a 6-1 ballgame effectively ending their postseason run.
As the Hawks prepared to make the long trek home, Head Coach Kelly Raines said she can't help but be proud of her team despite the disappointing end to the season.
“I love this team,” Raines said. “I am really proud of them. They faced a lot of adversity and we scored more runs than anyone except Salt Lake (Community College) so far. Obviously, we wish we could have done better, but we have had a great season.”
Some of the adversity Raines is referring to involved opponents' hesitance to pitch to star infielder Olive Naotala — who finished her junior college career by blasting a nation-leading 32 home runs on the season — and the ejection of Raines in Game 2 for supposedly arguing balls and strikes — an accusation Raines denounced as false.
“All I said was 'That's got to be a strike',” Raines explained. “I said it kind of loud, but I was in the dugout. I hadn't argued all game. The umpire came over and told me I was out of there.”
Raines will be losing Naotala's magical bat, as well as her go-to starting pitcher Sandra Serna, catcher Kara Isbel and a slew of other sophomores who played integral roles in the Hawks' program.
“Some of those kids aren't replaceable,” Raines added. “They aren't only good softball players, they are high character kids. We are going to really miss them. We will have to recruit another pitcher and another catcher. We will do our best to fill those positions, but you really can't replace a girl who hit 32 home runs.”