At this point, it seems almost inevitable that the Wenatchee Valley College softball team will win its eighth straight Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges East Region championship.
The Knights (30-3, 20-1 East), ranked No. 1 in the latest NWAACC coaches’ poll, have won 11 straight games heading into today’s doubleheader at Walla Walla.
Eighteen games into the region schedule, WVC has a six-game lead over three teams tied for second place. Each team has 10 games remaining, so any combination of five Knights wins and or losses by the second-place squads will give WVC another East Region pennant.
“We’re working on the first trophy,” Pflugrath said, referring to the East Region title, “then we want to go get another.”
To have a chance at winning the NWAACC title next month in Portland, the Knights are focusing on “little things” at practice, according to Pflugrath.
The coach still sees untapped potential in her group of players, in fact.
“As good as we’ve been (all season long), we’re still getting better,” she said. “We’re (concentrating) on details right now, things that we can be doing better, lots of situational-type stuff — less individual and more game situations. We’re trying to keep things fresh and fun.”
Sophomore catcher Riliey Cullip has definitely gotten better as the season has gone along.
Earlier in the year, Cullip, who led the Knights with 10 home runs last season, suffered from a knee injury, and wasn’t hitting well. Now healthy, her offensive numbers have started to improve in recent weeks, raising her season totals to a .316 batting average, .896 on base-plus-slugging percentage and a team-leading three home runs.
“She was playing on one leg, which is hard for a catcher,” Pflugrath said. “(At last weekend’s crossover tournament in Yakima), she hit a long double to right field and a grand slam to left field. When you’re hitting for power both ways, you know things are coming. She’s worked really hard (to improve).”
• In a five-game stretch earlier this month, WVC baseball player Tygar Garces went on a tear, posting 13 hits in 24 at-bats, with two home runs and three doubles. During that stretch, Garces raised his batting average from .214 to .365 and his OPS from .529 to 1.029.
Garces has cooled down since then — he’s recorded just one hit in the team’s past five games. But the Eastmont graduate is clearly proving that he’s one of the team’s most talented hitters.
“Watching him play, he’s got a different tick to him,” WVC head coach Dustin Willis said. “He’s got a very advanced knowledge of the game, and a great feel for hitting. He’s at a different level intellectually, and his understanding of the game is second to none. He’s advanced for our league right now.”
Garces suffered a dislocated left shoulder before the 2012 season began, and didn’t play for the Knights as a result. Some of his recent success has to do with the fact that he’s regaining his timing at the plate. “I hadn’t seen a live arm since high school in an actual game that mattered,” he said.
But Garces also feels that a recent position change also has something to do with his improvement. At the start of the season, Willis employed Garces almost exclusively at the designated hitter position, but moved Garces to third base for the Knights’ April 10 doubleheader against Blue Mountain. Garces responded with five combined hits, the start of his hot streak.
He’s been the team’s primary third baseman ever since.
“I talked to Blake (Raekes), who had been playing third. He said to me, ‘Do you want to play third? I want to play second,’ ” Garces said. “He told Willis, ‘Tygar hits well when he’s on the field.’ It’s a mindset. I don’t really feel like I’m in the game when I’m DHing.”
The Knights (8-10 East) will play host to region leader Treasure Valley on Saturday.