Warlassies’ season ends in third round

Fred McCormick

At times this season, the Owen Warlassies softball team has been an offensive juggernaut, scoring as many as 22 runs in a single game.

But among its 15 wins were six losses in which the offense averaged only one run a game. And one run was all the Warlassies could muster in their third-round loss to West Lincoln on May 18.

Led by sophomore pitcher Jaiden Tweed’s 174 strikeouts, the Warlassies improved by six games from the 2014-15 season, finishing 10-2 in the Western Highlands Conference.

At West Lincoln High in Lincolnton, Caitlyn Ledford scored for the Warlassies in the first inning, giving Owen a 1-0 lead that held through most of the game. But offensive production was difficult to come by, according to Jenny Johnson.

“We didn’t hit the ball,” she said. “We played solid defense behind Jaiden through most of the game, and we didn’t have any errors.”

The West Lincoln Rebels took the lead in the sixth inning on back-to-back home runs. The 3-1 deficit proved to be insurmountable for the Warlassies.

“We just weren’t able to get it going offensively after that,” Johnson said.

The loss to West Lincoln snapped a seven-game winning streak for Owen and ended a season in which the Warlassies met Johnson’s preseason expectations.

“I was pretty confident that this was what our season could and should look like,” she said. “I’m proud of us for fighting through to the third round. Our program hasn’t been to the third round in quite a while.”

The loss is disappointing for Johnson and the Warlassies, but the team will remain mostly intact next year. Four players are graduating.

“We’ll have to fill those holes,” Johnson said. “But we have a positive outlook on next season with this group.”

Among those set to return are Tweed and Ledford, joined by lead-off hitter Anissa Avila and catcher Ashley Valencia.

“Another year of experience will definitely benefit us going into next season,” Johnson said. “We will only get stronger.”

Much of the coach’s optimism about the future comes from the improvements she witnessed from the team as the season progressed.

“Our chemistry is something that really developed this year,” she said. “And we got stronger as a team because of that. We also improved our defense behind Jaiden as the year went on. That is something we can keep building on next year.”

Johnson said the team will focus on becoming more consistent on the offensive side of the ball in the offseason. Those efforts will be buoyed by the return of the Warlassies’ top-five hitters. That foundation is what the team will build upon in the future.

“If we keep working, especially on being consistent on the offensive side, the sky is the limit for this team,” Johnson said. “I hope we can go all of the way (to the state championship).”