This could be the season that ends the streak.

It's been 17 years since Philomath High School's softball program reached the state playoffs. The Warriors were one step away last year with a 7-0 loss at Elmira in a play-in game.

And it's been 34 long years since Philomath last won a conference title in the sport. Coach Erik Remington even put up a sign down the right-field line at the softball field that simply reads "1984," a reminder to his players just how long it's been.

Could the Warriors be on the verge of something special this spring?

"We know that last year, we were 60 feet away from being in a position to finally erase that 1984 and add a new number for a championship," Remington said. "We were finally getting a taste of that, but we didn't have our best showing."

The reasons for optimism stems from the fact that Philomath returns nearly its entire starting lineup. Familiar names return at every position except center field and first base. Seven received all-conference honors last year and include first-team selections Carrie Lillis (senior pitcher-first baseman), Hannah Williams (junior shortstop) and Sara Buddingh (senior outfielder), second-teamers Reiley Reichhuber (senior catcher), Amie Russell (junior third baseman) and Ashley Matthews (sophomore pitcher), and honorable mention picks Terra Ordway (senior outfielder) and Riley Weaver (junior second baseman).

Remington, entering his third year as head coach, is beaming with excitement about his options in the circle. Lillis has proven to be a force and Ashley Matthews had some exceptional performances when she was only a freshman. Added to the mix this year is freshman Kamden Combs.

"We're already calling it our 'triple-headed monster," Remington said. "We are going to be really blessed with pitching. Some teams would like to have only one of these girls on their staff and we have three."

Remington said Combs is "the real deal."

"The nice thing is each of the three have individual characteristics," Remington said. "It's very, very nice because we compliment them quite nicely behind them with defense. They don't have to shoulder a lot of weight and especially in the Oregon West, you rely on those pitchers to shoulder a lot of the weight."

Softball teams with dominant pitching often have positive results.

"We've got that combination ... we've got velocity, movement and location," Remington said. "A team might not keep up with one girl with the velocity and then the next girl can have so much movement that we're getting ground balls, fly balls and we've got the defense behind them, so you'll have to earn your runs."

Remington will take a hard look in preseason workouts at multiple players vying for the starting job in center. Buddingh and Ordway return at the corners, as mentioned, with center field possibilities being junior Kylie Galvan and two new players, junior Sydney Bradley (who actually played two years ago as a freshman) and freshman Mikaila Saathoff.

At first base, it appears that the starter might be whoever isn't pitching in that particular game. Lillis, who will play both softball and soccer at George Fox, and Ashley Matthews have experience there, and Combs, along with senior Madison Smallwood, could be options.

Reichhuber, who plans to play college softball at Linfield, brings a lot of experience back at catcher.

"We call her 'air traffic control' because she's behind there and helping corral our pitchers," Remington said. "It's been fun to watch her grow up and already at the beginning of this season, I can see her senior mentality, that senior leadership."

The Warriors don't plan to give any opposing pitchers a break either with an imposing lineup. Remington mentioned Russell, in particular, as a hitter with "unbelievable power at the plate."

Philomath finished third in the Oregon West last season behind Yamhill-Carlton and Newport. The Warriors were 15-9 overall.

To try to battle-test his players, Remington pushed for tough nonconference games. The team that kept Philomath from reaching state last year, Elmira, appears on Philomath's schedule twice this spring — March 21 at their place and March 26 in a tournament at Medford.

The Warriors will also face Dallas, last season's 5A state runner-up, and Dayton, last season's 3A state runner-up. Junction City, the Sky-Em League champ that finished ahead of Elmira, appears on the schedule next week.

"I'm challenging this team this year," Remington said of the schedule. "We've got a very good, special group."

Jeff Ordway returns as a varsity assistant on Remington's staff. The junior varsity will be coached this season by Lily Smith, who played softball at Corvallis High and Eastern Oregon.

The season opens Monday at home against Sweet Home.

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