Tayler Walker (holding trophy) and Katrina Winterburn (No. 10) are former Shasta County softball standouts who won the NAIA softball World Series on Wednesday, beating Oklahoma City 8-3. Walker played high school softball at Foothill, while Winterburn is an Enterprise product. (Photo courtesy of Tayler Walker)
Tayler Walker doesn’t remember what she was thinking as the final out was made in Southern Oregon University’s 8-3 win over Oklahoma City on Wednesday that clinched the NAIA softball national championship.
Video footage shows a group hug near the pitcher’s circle and then Walker at the bottom of the celebratory dogpile.
And while words escaped her in describing the moment, a tweet early Thursday morning said it all: “wow, waking up a National Champion is the best feeling EVER!!!! we’re coming for you Ashland.”
Walker and her Raider teammates waited out an eight-hour weather delay in Springfield, Mo., as the Midwest has been slammed recently with all sorts of severe weather, before winning the team’s 52nd game of the year.
Walker said the team was focused on bringing a title back to Oregon.
“We came into the tournament and had the mindset that we were going to win,” said the sophomore Walker while waiting for her flight back to Ashland. “We walked it and talked it.”
The Raiders took third in last year’s NAIA tournament and that only fueled the returning players, which also includes former Enterprise standout Katrina Winterburn, a sophomore, along with Walker.
“Last year really lit a fire under our butts,” Walker said.
And it helped, in a way, prepare the Raiders for the championship delay. At the 2018 tournament, SOU had a game delayed until 3 a.m. because of weather.
“A lot of what we went through prepared us for the unknown in Missouri,” she said.
The Raiders, who made the championship game unbeaten in the double elimination bracket, fell in Wednesday’s first game, but bounced back and took a 4-0 lead after a first inning grand slam by shortstop Paige Leeper. In the fifth inning the skies opened and the teams sat … for eight hours.
“We honestly just chilled,” said Walker. “We are really just a bunch of goofballs and were being ourselves (during the delay). We are good at not putting too much pressure on ourselves and making things bigger than they are.”
In the title game, Walker was 2-for-4 with an RBI and run scored. On the season, Walker hit .354 and tied for the team lead in home runs with five. She knocked 51 hits with 40 RBI. Winterburn saw time in nearly half of the Raiders’ games and hit .333.
Walker said playing with a former Shasta County rival made the journey special as well.
“We have a great friendship and even though we’re on other sides of the diamond, she knows how to get the best out of me,” Walker said of Winterburn.
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