An 8-7 record may not look like much, but the background behind the Ws and Ls shows the Carroll College Saints may just be making a Cascade Collegiate Conference run yet.
What Carroll’s done in a short span is quite remarkable. Thanks to both rain and snow, the Saints’ nonconference slate was nearly nonexistent -- save for one day and three games in California to kick off the season. The rest of the conference, on average, has played at 24 games. Carroll’s 15 games are a significant outlier.
Even with a short stint to tinker with lineups and work through at-bats, the Saints are 6-3 in the CCC
“When I say we had one day of non-conference, that’s the truth,” Saints coach Aaron Jackson said. “That came a day early. To be honest, what these kids have done early, to put us in the position to set up a run, is pretty remarkable. You’re playing teams that had 10 to 15 to 20 nonconference games and had chances to play with their lineups and get at-bats. We’re trying to do all that in the middle of conference when the games count.”
Carroll’s 6-3 conference record puts in in fifth, sitting behind first-place Southern Oregon, Corban, Eastern Oregon and Oregon Tech.
“I like where we’re at,” Jackson said. “We’re put behind the 8-ball early. One day in preseason. We had a good week of practice. We’ve done what we needed to do early on in conference schedule. We take each weekend as it comes. If we can continue to win series and get sweeps, that will set us up for a run. That will set us up for a real run for the Cascade Conference.”
Part of the Saints’ staying afloat in conference has come off the bat of freshman Anna ApRoberts, who came up huge last weekend against Northwest Christian.
“Her work ethic and her mental approach to the game is far above a freshman’s,” Jackson said. “She’s got a real competitive nature. She doesn’t like to lose at anything she does. That’s what set her up early on. That drive. She’s a hard-nosed kid. That’s really that’s the key to her success.”
Senior Courtney Cloud and junior Allison Bayer both are returners that the Saints counted on last season to produce offense.
“Allison’s a three-year starter for us and has led us in offense for the last two years,” Jackson said. “We expect her to get those big-time hits and power our lineup. She has continued to be consistent.”
Jackson said of Cloud: “Lead-off, slapper, mixture all over the lineup last year. She was trying to find the right spot. “She’s really taking a hold of that lead-up spot for us. She leads off and works counts for us. She’s being the senior she needs to be and giving us her all.”
Perhaps the strength of the team, Jackson believes, is his pitching corps.
“We’re five deep in the position, which his unheard of, really, in college softball; especially in our conference,” Jackson said. “That’s one benefit we have.”
Jackson noted the CCC’s scheduling pitting schools in four-game series against each other every weekend. His five pitchers give him a chance to throw a new pitcher each game, and have another waiting to relieve.
Even with a cast of disposable arms, freshman Allison Williams has shown a knack for the circle early.
“She’s probably one of the most decorated pitchers in the state of Montana in recent years,” Jackson said.
Jackson said Williams and sophomore Tess Eaton have proven themselves to be the Saints’ top hurlers.
“Megan Gipe,” Jackson continued, “is a senior that has all the stuff, and we look for her to get in the groove this weekend. She's had some unlucky starts.
“Brooke Brown is another freshman, out of Arizona, that throws really well for us that comes in as reliever. Courtney Schroder is another Montana kid out Great Falls that came through with her first win last week. Had no walks in the shutout. We’re excited with our pitching staff and probably the best pitching staff in our conference.”
On defense, the Saints are younger, as the team boasts 10 freshman and five sophomore and five juniors.
“Katie Parson and Allison Beyer are probably our three-year starts for us. We look for them to lead us on defense,” Jackson said. “Tianna Sell behind the plate is an all-conference, all-region catcher. She does a great job with our pitching staff. She calls her own game. Really leads behind the plate. She’s phenomenal catcher, probably the best in the league.”
The Saints have Cloud in center field and then rotate “three or four” players in right and left field, depending on who is hitting the ball well.
“This is year three to be in the conversation of championships coming off an eastern division last year, and being right in the hunt early in the conference schedule ... I never thought we’d be at this point, to be honest,” Jackson said. “It’s tough. We have teams in this conference that are a few years ahead of us in this process. They haven’t had a winning season, let alone vying for a league championship.”
As the Saints move into the second half of the season, with a home slate against Eastern Oregon University this weekend, Jackson’s message to his team is simple: “The best is still to come with this group.”