Pleasant Hill, Sports Zone

Billies softball goes back-to-back despite late-season coaching change

PLEASANT HILL – The Pleasant Hill Billies softball team battled through more than just a challenging on-field schedule this year; the team’s season took an unexpected turn when Steve Williams, the head coach last season and most of this season, stepped down at the beginning of May, along with two of his assistants. 

In-season coaching changes are an additional challenge for players on any team. The Billies still were able to plow through an 18-game conference schedule and finish 15-3 to win the Mountain Valley Conference in back-to-back years.

“I’m not taking any credit for this. Steve left me with a good coaching strategy, a good core group of girls, and I just stepped in where he left off. You can’t ask for a better coach, skill wise, than Steve,” said Ryan Black, who took over the head coach role after Williams stepped down. “For something like that to happen in the middle of your season – these girls could have just given up and went home. But instead they fought. … I couldn’t be more proud of these girls.”

Pleasant Hill took down La Pine in a doubleheader last Wednesday to clinch the MVC crown. The Billies and No. 6 Harrisburg both went 15-3 in the conference, but Pleasant Hill took the season series two games to one, and owned the tiebreaker.

In Game One against La Pine, Pleasant Hill won 15-6 behind Karley Bloxham’s 4 hits, 3 runs, and 5 RBI. Senior leadoff hitter Raigan Obie went 4-for-5 in the game with 2 runs and 1 RBI as well.

“(Raigan)’s the best leadoff hitter in the league, and I could say, probably in the state. Her batting record shows that,” Black said. “She doesn’t just bunt the ball. She can slap the ball, she can hit the ball far, and that’s about as good of a luxury as you can get.”

In Game Two, the Billies clinched the conference title with a 9-4 win thanks to Kendall Carey’s 2 hits, 2 runs, and 2 RBI.

Coaching change 

Williams, who helped lead Pleasant Hill to a 21-6 record and a quarterfinal appearance last season, stepped down at the beginning of May, saying in a resignation statement to the school that, “Due to the handling of several situations occurring over the last two seasons here at Pleasant Hill High School, I will be resigning as the varsity head softball coach effective immediately.”

The primary incident that Williams said sparked his resignation occurred during Pleasant Hill’s doubleheader on Saturday, April 27, when the Billies played Cascade and Yamhill-Carlton. 

During one of the doubleheader games, Williams said two players had a disagreement, and Jami Strinz, Williams’ partner outside of school and an assistant coach, tried to intervene.

“At that point, I saw the conversation between Jami and the player was – I’ll say hostile – at this point, because (the player) didn’t like that she was being told to settle down,” Williams said. “She and Jami were in a, not really heated discussion, but in a pretty intense discussion of what was going on.”

Williams said there was no profanity during Strinz’s interaction with the student. Eventually, he said, the team focused on finishing out the day. Williams said that he then received a call on Monday from Pleasant Hill’s athletic director Kyle McClain, and that McClain “basically said that I had to let (Jami) go. I had to let the coach go. I said, ‘Well, if that’s the way this is gonna play out, you’ll have both of our resignations by tomorrow.’”

Williams and McClain were unable to see eye-to-eye on the situation, and Williams, Strinz, and assistant Kyle Ludwig all submitted letters of resignation. Freshman shortstop Sari Strinz also left the team, though Williams said he and Jami “completely left that up to her choice.”

“As a whole, we’ve been fairly focused. I mean, losing our starting shortstop was a big hit too. We’re trying to fill that hole and having to shift girls,” Black said of losing Sari.

Finishing the season

McClain declined to comment on “personnel issues,” other than to say he wanted Williams to coach the rest of the season.

“We wanted Steve to finish the year and finish the season,” McClain said. “I feel like he has done a good job with the program as far as building up the youth program, and bringing excitement to the community with softball. Unfortunately, we went our separate directions, but I’m really proud of the way our girls have handled that adversity. … (The coaches) all stepped up and they’ve been keeping things really positive for the girls, and I’m really confident that we’re going to have a great end of the season.”

Raegan Luiz connects for one of her 3 hits during Game One of the doubleheader.

The Class 3A postseason gets underway this week, with at most four games left for the team. Pleasant Hill hosts No. 10 Enterprise on Wednesday in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. A win over Enterprise would likely send the Billies to No. 2 South Umpqua in the quarterfinals, though Black said the ceiling for this team is as high as any in the state.

“When we show up and do our job, we can play with the best of them. We played No. 8 Cascade in 4A and we hung with them. We played (No. 3) Yamhill and we hung with them,” Black said. “We beat (No. 6) Harrisburg in two out of three games, and we only gave up three runs that whole series. We’re just as good as anybody.”



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