Alexa Cepeda (left) signed to play softball at Portland State University for the 2021 season while Taylor Ebbs (right) gave a verbal commitment to the University of Kentucky back in November (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

Both Alexa Cepeda and Taylor Ebbs have been standouts for the McNary softball team over the course of their careers. And in the years to come, both players will get a chance to showcase their talents at a pair of Division I softball programs.

Cepeda, who is entering her senior season with the Celtics, will continue her career at Portland State University after officially signing with the Vikings last month. 

Ebbs, a junior at McNary, gave her verbal commitment to the University of Kentucky last month as well.

Looking at their statistics and accolades, it’s obvious to see why Cepeda and Ebbs have been recruited so heavily. 

Last season, Ebbs had an unbelievable batting average of .628 with seven homers and 60 RBIs. She also had 22 extra-base hits on the year and was recognized as the player of the year in the Mountain Valley Conference.

Cepeda also had an excellent year for the Celtics as she led the team in runs scored (48), and was second on the team in batting average (.495), on-base percentage (.560) and doubles (10). She also proved to be one of the top defensive center fielders in the MVC.

Both players were also selected to the all-state first-team and helped the Celtics win the conference title in 2019.

“I have been fortunate in my time at McNary to be able to coach some excellent players. With that being said, I would put these two at the top,” McNary head coach Kevin Wise said. “What stands out with both of them is their work ethic. They are not satisfied with being okay and if there is an area of weakness, they will work hard to improve it. They are also excellent teammates, very unselfish and great leaders.”

Ebbs went on an unofficial visit to Kentucky in September. Even though it’s more than 2,000 miles away from Keizer, she said that it felt like home. 

“I went to other places, but I just didn’t get that same feeling as the one I had when I was at Kentucky. I just knew that I could spend four of five years of my life living there, even if I wasn’t playing softball. It just felt like home for me,” Ebbs said. 

While Ebbs went on visits to several different schools, Cepeda knew pretty quickly that Portland State was the place that she wanted to be after high school. 

“I didn’t know much about the school at first, but I have always loved Portland and after I went on my visit, Portland State was the only school that I was really interested in,” Cepeda said. “When I went and met my coaches and the team, I just felt like I was a part of the team already. I just can’t wait to go be a part of it for real.”

One of the driving forces for Cepeda that has constantly pushed her to get better is her dad, Jose, who played in the minor leagues for five seasons in the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves organizations and owns a hitting facility in Tualatin.  

“Ever since I was little, he’s just always been that one person that will care for me and help me to get better. He just wants the best for me. He’s very intense, and he doesn’t allow me to give up on myself and not reach my full potential. He’s a really good motivator for me,” Cepeda said. 

Part of what has made Cepeda and Ebbs great athletes is their dedication to their craft. Both girls play softball year-round for the Northwest Bullets — arguably the top club team in the Northwest. 

The Bullets can have a tumultuous travel schedule at times, going to tournaments in California, Colorado and even New Jersey. 

“I can’t remember the last time we played in Oregon,” Ebbs said. 

But both girls believe that playing for the Bullets has better prepared them for college softball. 

“I think it’s given us a lot of exposure, because we’re always around college coaches. We’re around girls that are going to big schools and we’re always getting challenged. It makes us better prepared,” Cepeda said. 

Ebbs added: “I feel like it has prepared us for college, not only because of the high level of play, but I think it’s also helped me learn how to manage my time.”

Both players are excited to begin their college careers, and already have individual goals in mind for when they head to their separate institutions. 

“I definitely want to be in the starting lineup as a freshman and play with consistency, but I also want to be a good teammate,” Cepeda said, 

Ebbs, however, has even bigger aspirations for her college career. 

“I want to be an All-American. That is my biggest goal,” Ebbs said. 

When she was younger, Ebbs looked up to Jenna Lilley, a four-year star for the University of Oregon softball team. In her senior season, Lilley earned third-team All-American status, which inspired Ebbs to strive for that same accomplishment one day. 

“I started watching (Lilley) when I was in middle school. I really looked up to her and thought if she could do it, I could also do it,” Ebbs said. 

Even though they’re looking forward to the future, Cepeda and Ebbs still have some unfinished business at the high school level.

The McNary softball squad returns all but one starter from last year’s league championship team, which gives both Cepeda and Ebbs have high hopes for the upcoming season. 

“We would really like to make it to the state (championship). That’s our biggest goal, but we got to take it one step at a time,” Ebbs said.