PHS softball: Hannah Williams

Senior Hannah Williams throws the ball during practice inside the PHS gymnasium Friday afternoon.

Now that Philomath has established itself as a top softball program, other top teams have been trying to arrange games to see how they match up with the Warriors.

For example, McLoughlin, which won state titles in 2014 and 2015 and was runner-up in 2016, invited Philomath up to play in a tournament along with some other top-tier teams. But the Warriors had already committed to playing in a tournament at Redmond.

But one phone call that fourth-year coach Erik Remington couldn't turn away came from La Grande, last year's Class 4A state champion that beat the Warriors, 5-0, in last year's state semifinals.

"That's probably one of the most exciting things as a coach to be able to tell your players that helped build this program and with last year's success that La Grande called us to say, 'hey, we want to come to the valley and play you guys,'" Remington said. "We were 'absolutely, we want to see you again because we're going to see you again (potentially in the playoffs)."

It's an indicator of just how far the program has advanced over the past few seasons. The 2017-18 campaign was historic for the 22-6 Warriors with their first conference title in 34 years, their first berth in the state playoffs in 17 years and just one step away from their first-ever appearance in the state title game.

Moving the momentum forward this season will need to occur without a few key players that were lost to graduation and now playing in college. Carrie Lillis carried a big bat and Reiley Reichhuber had been catcher since her freshman season.

Still, Remington has most of his lineup returning and one of the most important will be in the circle. Kamden Combs, last season's Pitcher of the Year in the Oregon West Conference, is back for her sophomore campaign.

"In girls' fastpitch, it all starts with pitching and we're blessed because we have multiple pitchers," Remington said. "Kylie Barnes has been doing a wonderful job at the JV level and now she's ready. She'll split the details with Kamden if we get in a struggle or if we get in a situation where we need to make a change.

"I've got total confidence to put her out there, too, because we're going to have a strong defense," Remington added. "I've got returning third, returning short, returning second."

In all, Philomath returns four players that made last season's all-league team. Besides Combs, the others are senior shortstop Hannah Williams, senior third baseman Amie Williams and sophomore outfielder Kaili Saathoff. In addition, senior Riley Weaver will be back at second base.

Barnes, a junior, is one of those players that has been "waiting in the wings" to see time on varsity. Seniors Kylee Galvan and Sydney Bradley also fit into that category with both expected to see time in the outfield. The holes heading into the season will be at catcher and first base.

"Yes, we'll have a hole at catcher but we do have a new kid in that young, a freshman, that's going to have to grow up a little bit but does a pretty good job," Remington said in reference to Reagan Larson. "It's always hard to replace a player that has that senior mentality."

Remington said that in addition to Larson, junior Tasha Varnado could also step in behind the dish and is actually a utility player that he could plug in just about anywhere. At first, junior Ashley Williams could be a possibility along with a few of the new players.

"We'll utilize probably that DP (designated player) flex option, which is basically like a designated hitter option," Remington said. "We'll definitely utilize that because we do have a lot of girls that can swing the bat."

In all, Remington as of last week had 26 players in the program. He plans to carry 13 or 14 on varsity.

"The success of basketball has put me behind a little bit," said Remington, who had a significant number of his athletes in Forest Grove for the state tournament. "There are some girls that I really won't get a full look at until Sunday and then Tuesday, we play the first game."

Out of those 26 on the roster, 11 are freshmen, which is an important number for Remington.

"Obviously, you never know if they're going to continue for all four years but that's a good start because we have a very small, slim sophomore and junior class," he said. "So we need those freshmen and the eighth-graders behind them."

Philomath will play in a realigned Oregon West. Sweet Home, a team Philomath defeated in the state playoffs last year, will be expected to challenge for the top. Remington said Stayton, Cascade and Newport look to be the other top teams heading into this spring.

As far as the schedule goes, Philomath plans to play in a tournament over Spring Break in Redmond, but that could be in jeopardy based on the amount of snow currently on the ground up there. If the tourney doesn't happen, Remington hopes to arrange something against teams like Scappoose or Wilsonville.

Joining Remington with coaching duties this season will be Travis King and Jeff Ordway. Jessica Motter will take over head coaching duties of the junior varsity squad.

The season is scheduled to open Tuesday at Thurston with a home game Thursday against Dallas and a road trip Friday to Lebanon. The big La Grande game, which Remington hopes will bring out a big home crowd, is scheduled for March 23.

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