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OSU softball: It's no dream; the Beavers are in the Women's College World Series

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Sarah Haendiges

Oregon State freshman pitcher Sarah Haendiges and the Beavers' open their Women's College World Series run Thursday against Florida.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oregon State softball was the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Knoxville Regional two weeks ago, but on Thursday the Beavers open their run in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, the program’s first appearance in the championship tournament since 2006.

It’s easy to understand how this experience might seem more dream than reality.

“I don't think it's hit me yet. I almost feel like I'm just here spectating, but I'm out here playing,” OSU junior infielder Frankie Hammoude said during Wednesday’s pre-tournament press conference. “It has not hit me that I get to play in OKC with my team and have all these cool memories to share later down the road. It's awesome.”

Freshman pitcher Sarah Haendiges seconded Hammoude’s thoughts on the ride her team has been on the past few weeks.

“As a freshman, I've never had to experience losing in a regional and losing in a super (regional),” Haendiges said. “The fact that we're here seems like something that should happen, and obviously I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Hopefully more than once, but you know what I mean. Yeah, it definitely hasn't hit me yet.”

Oregon State (39-20) slogged through a 10-game losing streak late in Pac-12 Conference play. But the Beavers have responded to win eight of their last 10, including a two-game sweep at conference rival Stanford in last week’s super regional to join conference foes Arizona and UCLA in Oklahoma City.

OSU found its way to Hall of Fame Stadium with a roster that includes 14 freshmen.

“I just think those losses were very close. We knew if we just changed one or two things in those games, that we probably would have had a different outcome,” Hammoude said. “I think our team does a really good job of staying positive and just looking forward to the next thing, so I don't know. I think the youth in us kind of helps with that.”

OSU plays Florida at 4 p.m. Pacific Time Thursday to open its run in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament.

Oregon State is one of three unseeded teams in the WCWS, joining Arizona and Texas. This year marks the first time that’s happened since the NCAA super regionals first became part of the postseason in 2005.

“Everyone talks about the long losing streak, but we had a 17-game winning streak. That was pretty exciting to be a part of,” said Beavers coach Laura Berg. “But like Frankie said, sometimes you learn more from the losses than you do the wins, and like Frankie said, just a few things that go our way, we win those games.”

A video that went viral on social media showed the Beavers dancing exuberantly late in the second game against Stanford, just a few outs from making dream become reality.

Hammoude and Haendiges were asked who on the team was driving that loose atmosphere.

“Whenever I'm not pitching and I'm in the dugout, I definitely feel like I'm a part of it,” Haendiges said. “Jade Soto and Erin Mendoza and Kristalyn Romulo, they're always getting cheers going in the dugout. When we're on the field, they're going to be just as loud as when we're hitting. Whenever I am pitching, it's just great to look in the dugout and see that, and just know that even if they're not on the field, they're putting so much into it in the dugout.”

Hammoude added: “Well, I think everyone did not expect us to be here, on the outside bubble at least. We know we don't have anything to lose, and all the pressure is on everyone else. So we can do nothing but have fun.”

Berg, in her 10th season as the Beavers’ head coach, is one of the most accomplished players in softball history. She won three Olympic gold medals and one silver while a member of the United States team.

She was a four-team All-American at Fresno State, where she helped the Bulldogs to the 1998 national title and three total WCWS appearances. She’s second in NCAA career hits with 396.

Berg has also served four years as an assistant coach on the U.S. Women’s National Team staff, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“This probably ranks at the top. It's one thing to be able to do it as player. When you have the bat in your hand, the glove on your hand, the ball in your hand,” she said. “To be able to get a group of incredible young women from 18 to 22 on the same page, in the same boat, rowing in the same direction, it's different. This is probably the top. The top on my list.”

Jesse Sowa is a sports reporter at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached at 541-812-6065.

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