Madras softball heavy on class of seniors

Buffs are driven to outdo last season by making the playoffs

PIONEER FILE PHOTO - Shortstop/outfielder Leah Buck is one of six seniors on the Madras softball team that accounts for half of the total roster. The team has plenty of experience between players and coaching staff, and they'll be looking to improve on a fourth-place finish in the Tri-Valley Conference last season.
Shawna McConnell isn't one to dwell on the past.

After she returned to the Madras softball program last season following a two-year sabbatical to earn her master's degree, the White Buffalos started slower than they expected.

Madras lost its first seven games of the season and finished with a 7-17, 5-10 Tri-Valley Conference record. Granted, the Buffs had to face a pair of teams in Scappoose and Mac-Hi that wound up in the state semifinals. Still, they were in a position to sneak into the playoffs late in the regular season, but came up short, and ended their season feeling disappointed.

This wasn't a case of inexperience. McConnell had coached Madras for eight years prior to her departure, but with an entirely new group of girls, she and her players were unfamiliar with each other's styles.

"Last year, it was a new coaching staff for these girls," McConnell said. "They've never been coached by me, so (there was) a lot of learning. It was a learning environment for all of us and we definitely lost some games that we shouldn't have in the preseason, but we also saw some tough teams. We don't really use that as any indication of how we're going to start this season."

Considering the group they have back this season, the Buffs shouldn't be all that worried. That is, of course, if they can clean up in some areas.

Of the 12 girls on the roster, six are seniors, and each one of them plays an important role.

PIONEER FILE PHOTO - Senior Kianna Moschetti returns as a first-team All-TVC selection after leading the Buffs in fielding percentage as a second baseman last season.Kianna Moschetti, a regining first-team all-TVC selection, led the team in fielding percentage as a second baseman last season. Melissa Field and Jordan Patt, both all-league honorable mentions, contributed as dependable infielders and provided offensive sparks.

Kalissa Alire gave Madras valuable innings on the mound, and will be called on this season again, along with sophomore Lizzie Steuart and freshman Jiana Smith-Francis.

Rounding out the senior class are Leah Buck and Celeste Morning Owl, both of whom play softball beyond the spring and bring plenty of combined experience to the team.

After last year's ending left a bitter taste in everyone's mouth, the Buffs have no shortage of determination to reach the postseason.

"They're definitely driven, and they've got that goal mindset of finishing better than we did last year and making the playoffs," McConnell said.

For the Buffs to get back into winning ways of past seasons, they'll need to improve offensively.

Though they had a few strong bats at the top of the order a year ago, McConnell noted too many instances where base-runners were left stranded. It was largely a result of too many inconsistent bats further down the lineup. They hope that will improve this season.

"Even though some of the scores didn't show it, we weren't hitting," McConnell said. "Defensively, we played decent, and then all of a sudden because we're not hitting, it carries over and the confidence level drops. I'm definitely looking for more of a strong lineup this year."

Madras opens its season Wednesday with a home game against Bend at 4 p.m. The Lava Bears were one of the teams a year ago that the Buffs felt they should've beaten. An early home win would be the positive start Madras is looking for.

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