Tualatin junior shortstop Bella Valdes returns to her leadoff role this season.
Tualatin junior shortstop Bella Valdes returns to her leadoff role this season.

At times last season, it almost seemed as if higher forces were at play for Tualatin’s 6A champion softball team.

“All of us staff just kept looking at each other, and nobody would say anything because you didn’t want to jinx it,” coach Jenna Wilson said.

The Timberwolves made all the right plays to finish 30-0 and become the first unbeaten big-school champion since Churchill in 1992. All but four of their wins came by more than one run.

Now Tualatin is faced with following up on perfection. And after losing four starters – including first-team all-state picks at pitcher (Megan Woodward) and catcher (Ella Hillier) – the Timberwolves “have a lot of work to do,” according to Wilson.

“We all know there’s a target on our back, and that’s tough for the newbies that weren’t on the squad last year,” said Wilson, whose team was voted No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 6A preseason coaches poll. “I told the girls, ‘Every team is gunning for you because they want to be the first team to beat the state champions from last year. So be ready.’”

It starts with finding an ace pitcher. Tualatin believes it has a strong candidate in junior Tia Ridings, who leads a deep staff that includes junior Sydney Wagner, senior Lily Marshall and freshman Camille Schmitz.

“This is kind of her year in the circle,” Wilson said of Ridings. “We basically let her know that this is her space to lose, and she’s got to rock it. She’s ready to step up, for sure, on both sides, hitting-wise and on the mound.”

The team’s offense is a work in progress. Wilson pointed out that the Timberwolves hit .520 in their preseason jamboree last year, but only .320 this year.

The batting order needs to be rebuilt. Tualatin’s offense has some speed, power and experience, but also enough new bats to have a significant learning curve.

The Timberwolves return their leadoff hitter in junior shortstop Bella Valdes and have a big bat in senior first baseman Emily Johansen, who has signed with Portland State. Johansen holds Tualatin home run records for a single season (15 in 2018) and career (22).

“She’s unbelievable,” Wilson said. “This is her year. She’s rocking it. She’s a little scary to pitch to, for myself as a coach, and probably as well as the pitchers. That’s why she was walked a lot last year.”

The Timberwolves, who also won the 6A title in 2015, are counting on their program’s culture to carry them through. Wilson said that she and assistants Bill Wilson and Mike Jodoin “are pretty big on the process.”

“We’re working fundamentals all day long, to the point where the girls get bored of the same thing,” Wilson said. “But it’s tried and true.”

Despite the roster turnover, Tualatin isn’t hedging on its usual high expectations. The Timberwolves got off to a strong start Wednesday with an 8-3 win over Dallas in the first game on their new artificial turf field.

“We’ll probably get some losses, but I’m not going to guarantee it,” Wilson said. “I would hope not.”