By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
The Oregon Titans opened the 16U Gold American Softball Association/USA National Championship 5-0 but up next was a team, Washington Majestics, they had fallen to 9-1 just earlier this summer.
“It was probably the toughest team we’d ever seen, this year when we stepped on the field,” Titans President Rick Muranaka said. “Our girls hadn’t really seen a team like that. We’ve either dominated or been in close games. One of their pitchers has committed to go to the University of Washington and the other pitcher has committed to go to Boise State. We’d never faced pitchers like that. We came out and our girls were watching them and we were nervous.”
In the rematch, Friday in Broken Arrow, Okla., the Majestics again took an early lead, scoring three runs in the top of the fourth.
However, the Titans, primarily made up of high school players from McNary and West Salem, answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning and held on to win 4-3.
“The girls were so fired up to play them,” Muranaka said. “They wanted to get revenge. We made some big errors and we were down and our girls kept believing and kept fighting. In the dugout they were so positive. It was super hot. They were running out on the field during timeouts and giving their teammates water. It was really, really cool. Our defense locked them down and made some really high pressure plays. They were just ready and it was pretty cool to watch.”
The Titans ultimately finished third out of the 34 best teams in the country.
Oregon opened pool play with another tight game Tuesday, July 19 morning against Illinois Force.
The Titans were shut out entering the bottom of the seventh before McNary rising junior Nadia Witt drove in two runs to give the Titans a 2-1 victory. Oregon rolled from there, defeating the Firecrackers HTX 14-2 Tuesday and the Louisiana Bombers 11-4 Wednesday to enter tournament play undefeated.
Another incoming McNary junior, Haley Ebner, had three RBIs in an 8-2 win over Originals Earl Thursday morning. The Titans then held on to top the Northwest Raptors 10-9 that night.
After another one-run comeback win, 4-3, over Georgia Impact, the Titans went up against the eventual national champion—Texas Bombers.
Muranaka said Texas, which scored two runs in the second and eight in the third to win 10-2, was just the better team.
“That is an amazing team,” he said. “Almost every girl is committed to a major D-I program. It was fun to play them. It was really neat and eye-opening for our girls to see a team like that.”
Playing on fumes, Oregon then lost to Originals-CK 12-9 Saturday to end the tournament.
“We were playing in 100-degree plus weather and they just wore down,” Muranaka said. “You could see it. Our girls were just tired.”
The national tournament followed the Triple Crown World Series in Park City, Utah, where the Titans placed second in the silver bracket just the week before.
“I’ve had some good teams but I’ve never had a team this good that’s meshed on all different levels, not only just physically but mentally and team bonding,” Muranaka said. “It’s just been kind of a dream season for us.”
Muranaka also credits a talented coaching staff, which includes head coach Missy Doerr, a former University of Oregon catcher, Dave Coe, Kevin Witt and Rick’s wife, Sarah Muranaka, an All-American pitcher at Western Oregon, for the team’s success.
“They did an amazing job,” Rick said. “It’s just a really good coaching staff that we brought together and worked well for the kids. I’m so happy that we all work together so well.”
Muranaka has also heard from college coaches since the tournament. His daughter, Nalani, and Nadia Witt have already verbally committed to Western Oregon.
“We have a bunch of college coaches that have been calling me,” Rick said. “Colleges have seen these girls play this year and are loving them. We’re fielding phone calls and trying to get these girls on their visits. It’s just a whirlwind. It’s crazy.”