Jim Speciale felt his Jesuit softball team had at least one more game left in the chamber, another contest to establish itself as a squad on the ascent heading into next season.

In the first round of the 6A state playoffs on May 23, however, West Linn took out the Crusaders 5-4 in nine innings, curtailing Jesuit’s four-run upturn in the last four innings to eliminate the Metro’s third seed in the 6A postseason.

“It was a heartbreaker,” said Speciale. “I thought we should’ve won the ballgame. I thought we were definitely the better team going into that game, but it just didn’t turn out that way. I wish we were still playing.”

Jesuit was down 4-0 going into the bottom of the fourth, but sliced the lead in half with a leadoff triple, a subsequent double and a two-out RBI single to make it 4-2. The Crusaders’ retaliation persisted in the fifth, scoring runs off one-out hits and utilizing brainy base running to capitalize on a West Linn throwing error to tie the game 4-4.

Speciale alleged a couple of questionable calls went against the Crusaders but couldn’t blame the umpires. Jesuit moved runners into scoring position in the first three innings and had the potential game-winning run at third base in the bottom of the seventh. However, the Crusaders hit a deep ball to the fence, and the West Linn centerfielder pulled it in to squash the rally.

“They’re a good team, and we knew we were going to have our hands full,” said Speciale. by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Crusaders catcher Emily Preble was first-team all-Metro for the Jesuit softball team this season. Shell be back next year as a sophomore.

Speciale pointed out that second baseman Kelsey Downey played “really well” for the Crusaders, driving in one of the runs during the comeback. Left fielder Jessica Wyatt drove in a run in the fourth and the fifth stanzas, and freshman catcher Emily Preble tacked on an RBI. Speciale said his sprightly squad never checked out of the game mentally, and this season, learned how to fight back from big holes and scrap for wins.

Jesuit loses Wyatt, Marissa Renda and Mak O’Malley to graduation, but the Crusaders’ freshmen class is very strong and loaded with promise. Freshmen third baseman Victorya Stallworth, Kory Olsen on the mound and Preble behind the plate started this season, and they’re only going to get better by playing summer ball. Speciale said it was eye-opening for the underclassmen to be dropped in Metro and have to bring their best three times a week to have a shot at victory. Yet, their yeoman’s work ethic in the offseason earned starting spots and their competitive spirit, to come in and beat out upperclassmen, was a credit to their will. Next year, they’ll all be a year older and have 26 invaluable games of regular season experience under their belts.

“This freshmen class doesn’t like to lose, and that’s what we need,” said Speciale. “Usually we have one or two freshmen starting, but this is kind of a special class for us. It’ll only be greater for us as they get older. With next year’s freshmen class coming in, these freshmen can teach them how we want the job done. I think we’ll do OK next year.”

Couple that with the return of juniors Emily Allen, Ali Schultheis, Catherine Enger and Downey along with a big class of sophomores and Speciale is encouraged about next year’s squad. More so, two weeks before the start of the season Jesuit’s ace Hailey Malin tore her ACL in a skiing accident while competing for the Crusader downhill team and was sidelined for the entire spring. Oleson was pushed into emergency pitching duty and did an admirable job of filling in for Malin.

Oleson garnered second-team all-Metro honors in the circle, throwing nearly every game this season despite missing most of basketball season with an injured ankle. Her emergence, mixed with Malin’s return could turn Jesuit into the preseason favorite in Metro next season. The league was painfully young as a whole this season with so little seniors across the six schools, but it’ll be on the up-and-up. Of the 32 first- or second-team all-Metro selections, 22 were underclassmen.

Downey was named first team all-Metro. Preble, Oleson, and Allen were each second-team selections, and Stallworth was honorable mention.

Malin has vowed not to hit the slopes again in favor of focusing on softball. If Malin’s healthy, then Speciale might have a pair of all-league-caliber aces to go to, offering an endless amount of possibilities pitching-wise. Say, if Malin struggles early, the skipper can insert Oleson and stop the bleeding, or Oleson can start, go hard for five innings and give way to Malin to close it out.

“That’s a lot of pressure for a freshman coming into the Metro League and competing every day, and she handled it well,” said Speciale of Oleson.

“We weren’t sure we were going to have her because of her ankle, but she toughed it out. She really learned how to compete. The weight was on her shoulders most of the season.”

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