Bearcats Look Forward to Exciting Softball Season in 2009

By Mike Reeves, Athletics Communications Student Writer and
Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- Head Softball Coach Damian Williams and the Willamette University Bearcats have spent a busy off-season preparing for the opening of the 2009 schedule. Through all their hard work, one thing has become clear. Bearcat fans are in luck, because this team is going to put on a show.

“We will be young, but exciting to watch,” Williams said.

Willamette’s young team has plenty talent. Coaches in the Northwest Conference, as well as across the nation, have recognized the potential in the Willamette clubhouse.

The Bearcats were picked to finished third out of nine teams in the NWC Preseason Poll and were ranked #23 in the nation in the NCAA Division III Preseason Poll conducted by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA).

Willamette will be led by Nikki Franchi (Sr., RHP). In 2008, Franchi was named First Team All-America as a utility player by the NFCA, as she became Willamette's first All-America selection in softball. She was named First Team All-West Region, was the Player of the Year in the Northwest Conference and was a First Team All-NWC selection.

At the plate, Franchi earned an impressive .518 batting average and set Willamette records with 10 home runs and a .955 slugging percentage. She set another record with 45 RBIs and tied a WU record with 46 runs scored. She started all 36 games for the Bearcats, either as a pitcher or as a designated player.

Every time Franchi steps into in circle, she gives the Bearcats a great chance to win. Franchi finished the year with a 19-4 record and a 1.85 earned run average. She struck out 203 batters to set a Willamette record and held opponents to a .198 batting average. She registered three complete-game shutouts and one combined shutout. She pitched a total of 147 2/3 innings.

Franchi already holds a number of records at Willamette, both at the plate and in the circle. With the sweat equity she put in this off season, she hopes to add to those records while helping the team improve following a very respectable 25-11 finish last year. Willamette was 19-9 in the NWC.

Along with Franchi’s talent, the Bearcats return a great deal of firepower at the plate. LaShawna Holcomb (Sr., CF) and Marissa Richards (Sr., 1B) are two of the Bearcats’ top returning batters. Holcomb and Richards are great hitters who are capable of providing base hits as well as long-range powerful shots.

Last season, Holcomb and Richards both started 36 games and each batted .348 for Willamette. Holcomb also provided the Bearcats with six home runs and 36 RBI’s, while Richards hit seven balls out of the park and drove in 26 runs. In addition to their work at the plate, they both provided solid defensive on the diamond.

Also returning for the Bearcats are senior left fielder Cirbi Anthony and junior second basemen Nicole Wallace. Anthony started all 36 games and was solid in the outfield last year. She provides a wealth of leadership and experience. Wallace also started every game last season. She hit .306 and blasted five home runs.

Lizzy Whittemore (So., 3B), Jayleen Morris (Jr., C) and Caitlin Waugh (Jr., OF) return for the Bearcats, providing depth and experience. Whittemore played in 27 games in 2008, while Morris saw action in 23 games and Waugh contributed in 16 games.

Franchi is one of four returning All-Northwest Conference players for the Bearcats. Holcomb, Richards and Wallace were all named Second Team All-NWC last year.

Williams was successful in recruiting a talent group of new players to join the 2009 Bearcats. Suzannah Von Trapp (Fr., INF), Sierra Lessel (Fr., OF), Nichole Robertson (Fr.,OF), Susie Krewer (Fr., OF), Carolyn Cava (Fr., OF), Emily Bray (Fr., INF), Talissa Huntsman (Fr., P/IF), Alex Watilo (Fr., P), and Mica Romero (Fr., SS) all will battle for playing time while providing depth for the Bearcats.

In addition to a challenging 28-game NWC schedule, the Bearcats also will square of against a tough crop of non-conference opponents, including in-state rival Southern Oregon University (March 24). Willamette opens its season on Sunday, Feb, 22 versus Eastern Oregon University and Concordia University (Ore.) at the Northwest Cup in Portland, Ore. The ‘Cats will take on Eastern Oregon at 1 p.m. (PST) and will play tournament host Concordia at 3 p.m.

The pre-conference schedule also includes an exhibition doubleheader against the University of British Columbia on Saturday, Feb. 28. The Bearcats will open Northwest Conference play on Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8 with back-to-back doubleheaders at the WU Softball Field versus Pacific University at 12 p.m. (PST) each day.

Williams is entering his 11th season leading the Bearcats. He has amassed an overall record of 189-166 (.532). Seven of his teams have finished above the .500 mark and five of those teams have produced 20 or more victories. Under Williams’ guidance, the Bearcats have a 136-104 (.567) record in NWC action.

Nikki Franchi hit .518 and drove in a school record 45 runs for the Bearcats last spring.

Nikki Franchi hit .518 and drove in a school record 45 runs for the Bearcats last spring.

LaShawna Holcomb hit .348 with 30 runs and 36 RBIs in 2008.

LaShawna Holcomb hit .348 with 30 runs and 36 RBIs in 2008.

Last season, Nicole Wallace started every game, hit .306 and earned a .984 fielding percentage.

Last season, Nicole Wallace started every game, hit .306 and earned a .984 fielding percentage.

Marissa Richards was named Second Team All-NWC last season.

Marissa Richards was named Second Team All-NWC last season.