Apr 01, 2015

Building Greatness

A Winning Tradition

 
  • Two NCAA Regional Tournament Appearances (2016, 2018)
  • Five Northwest Conference Tournament Appearances (2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
  • Six NFCA All-West Region Athletes (One first-team, three second-team, two third-team) 
  • 4 Northwest Conference Coaches of the Year
  • 1 (NFCA) Division III National Pitcher of the Week (Abbie Bergerson, 2015)
  • Two National Top-25 Rankings (2016, 2018)
  • One NAIA Regional Tournament (1994)
  • One NAIA District Championship (1994)
  • One Cascade Conference Championship (1994)
  • 1 NAIA District Coach of the Year
 

By: Ryan Lackey

NEWBERG, Ore. ---The difference between a mediocre team and an outstanding team is often attributed to singular moments, opportunities to transcend. Although it's quite in vogue to discredit the idea of momentum, the inertia that carries successful teams along or mires out-of-form teams in the mud of ineptitude, there exist certain moments that help define seasons, legacies. These turning points often determine how, exactly, things turn out: teams, players, championships.

Megan Furtado found herself amidst just such an opportunity in the last inning of the Bruins' doubleheader with Linfield: two runners aboard, Linfield nursing a one-run lead. Exactly the sort of moment that defines a season.

Linfield, as an aside, topped the preseason NWC coaches' poll, picked to win the conference by 75% of the voters. The Bruins, despite a very solid 24-16 record the year before (program record), came in a lowly sixth.

But the game, as is often noted, is not played on paper – and certainly not on ballots. And no ballot possibly could have predicted Furtado's heroics: her vicious swing that sent Montana McNealy's delivery sizzling into the right-center gap for a double that gave the Bruins the game, the doubleheader, and their first sweep of Linfield since 2001.

This is exactly the sort of season the Bruins have enjoyed: though everyone else might count them out, their play on the field speaks for itself – and loudly.

"This season's success has definitely been something that has been building," said head coach Jessica Hollen. "They bought into the vision when they decided to attend George Fox, and I am happy to see that it has been paying off in wins."

A glance at the history echoes Hollen. Two years ago, a young Bruins team went 18-22, a solid-if-unspectacular record. But, more importantly, that team formed the nexus of an ideology that continued – and continues – to grow.

"The attitude of this team is one that is directly in line with our core covenants," Hollen explained, and these core covenants, words like "accountable" and "passionate" and "selfless" help form the legacy of the Bruin essence that's been long building.

Last season, the Bruins surged to a 24-16 record, and although that team finished fifth, a certain anticipation was palpable. Something was about to erupt.

That eruption has come this season, most often in the form of rocketed shots from Bruin bats and fireballed deliveries from the Bruins' duo atop the rotation: Abbie Bergerson and Madison Sorensen. Together, the pair's joint 21-4 record accounts for all but two of the Bruins' wins, and their combined ERA is a dazzling 2.88. Due in no small part to their pitching, the Bruins stand at 23-5, first place in the NWC, sixth a dim sight far below. They have also been ranked for the first time in program history at No. 25 on the NFCA Division III Top 25 Poll. 

On offense, the Bruins are just as dynamic. As a team, they bat .321 and have launched a collected 21 round-trippers. With six starters hitting over .300 with multiple home runs, opposing pitchers are hard-pressed to find a soft spot in the Bruins' lineup, which is just how Hollen likes it.

"This group holds themselves accountable to high standards," she said. "We did not set goals at the beginning of the year to make the conference tournament or to win conference, we made goals to compete and do our best."

Obviously, the Bruins' best is quite good, indeed. But even within a team laden with such talent, Hollen believes the key is camaraderie, faith, and selflessness.

"Belief in self and teammates is huge, and this group has it," she asserted. "To compete and be able to cheer on a teammate as well as our girls do is not always an easy thing."

A truly great team, though, does more than compile statistics and an eye-catching win-loss record. The best teams have breathless, jaw-slackening moments, instances that step beyond techniques and game plans, into a triumph of gracefulness that one can only applaud. The Bruins' doubleheader against Linfield was just such a moment. As always, the Bruins entered the game with a quiet confidence in each other, but, as Hollen said, "what followed we couldn't have guessed."

Facing Wildcats' ace McNealy, who entered the game 12-2, the Bruins burst out for ten runs in the second inning, chasing McNealy off the field after just one-and-a-third innings pitched. George Fox took that game 10-2, and unsurprisingly, Hollen credited the team's preparation and interdependence.

"You can never assume you would be able to score 10 runs in an inning off such a strong team and a strong pitcher," she said, "but it was awesome to see their trust in the game plan."

The second game was never going to be so straightforward. A gritted-teeth outing from Sorensen kept the Bruins in the game, but still they trailed by two in the seventh. But then Kayla Anderson – the Bruins three-hitter, shortstop, and nexus – had a cold-blooded at bat and worked a walk. With a runner on, Amanda Woods singled, and Kat Hylton, embodying the Bruins' team-first mantra, sacrificed them both into scoring position. And up stepped Furtado. The pitch, the swing, and the celebration.

Hollen gave her view on the theatrics: "To come back from behind in the second game, and to have Megan Furtado, a pinch hitter, come up big the way she did, is a tribute to the team effort it has taken for us to have the success that we have had so far."

Where, then, do the Bruins go from here?

Hollen says that such questions miss the point: the Bruins have no destination to fixate on. Instead, every day is just that – another day, another at-bat, to uplift the team and the players who have worked so tirelessly.

"Our remaining goals are to do our best and to stay strong as one team," said Hollen. "We have chosen to focus on the process of doing all that we can as well as we can, and we believe success will follow. I don't like to limit possibilities!"

Nor, apparently, do the Bruins.