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The sounds of yipping and howling coming from the Lower Columbia College dugout isn’t a roaming pack of coyotes.

It’s the softball team members, restless in their den.

“We try to stay loose during games,” LCC sophomore catcher Sam Boyce said. “We try to be really obnoxious with our cheering to frustrate our opponents. We’re goofy in that way. Many of the cheers we do during games are made up on the spot.”

The Red Devils are taking their happy-go-lucky attitudes into today’s opening rounds of the NWAC Softball Championships at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane.

LCC (18-14) is the 10th seed into the tournament, and faces seven-seed Walla Walla (27-13) in the 10 a.m. lid-lifter. Win or lose, the Red Devils play either second-seed Mount Hood or 15-seed Mount Hood at 3 p.m. in the second round of the double-elimination tournament. The tournament runs through the weekend, with the championship game slated for 11 a.m. Monday.

“I’m OK with where we placed, and I think the 10 seed is pretty good,” LCC coach Traci Fuller said. “It doesn’t matter who we play because everyone is the same and have the same goal in mind.”

Fuller said the Devils will be successful if they remain focused.

“If we do what we need to do in order to perform, we’ll be all right. Our goal is to make it to Saturday.”

Walla Walla wasn’t one of the four teams LCC faced in its rain-shortened preseason.

“I don’t know much about them … we haven’t played them in two years,” Fuller said of the Warriors. “I can look at stats, but they don’t tell me if we need to pitch a particular player inside or outside. It’s exciting to be playing unknown teams.”

The Red Devils and Warriors have comparable stats. Walla Walla was ninth in hitting with a .349 batting average, 41 home runs and 275 RBI. LCC finished 13th with a .335 batting average, 35 homers and 201 RBI. Walla Walla was fifth in pitching with a 4.50 earned run average, and 193 strikeouts in 256 innings. LCC was 13th with a 5.33 ERA and 99 whiffs in 197 innings.

“I believe in this team, and I think we’re ready,” Boyce said. “We’ve improved a lot during the season, and we’re a good hitting team. If we’re able to see the ball well, then I believe we can go far.”

Boyce led LCC in hitting at .411 with seven homers and 34 RBI. Shortstop Shanay Dotson hit .394 with 15 stolen bases and was hit by 11 pitches, and centerfielder Aurora Gouley hit .381 with two homers and 13 RBI. Pitcher/first baseman Christine Robbins led the Devils in home runs (9) and RBI (40) while hitting .356. Designated hitter Hannah Rothwell, second baseman Bailey Hockett and pitcher/first baseman Jessica Gibson hit four homers apiece.

On the slab, Gibson was 11-5 with a 3.78 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 81 innings. Robbins was 4-1, 4.83 with 20 whiffs in 46 innings, and Taylor Brooks was 1-6, 8.40 with 14 strikeouts in 40 innings.

“Compared to last year’s team, we aren’t a better hitting team, but we have more power hitters,” Boyce said. “We also have more diversity with players who can play multiple positions.”

Anna Williams led the Warriors with a .431 batting average. Dani Shotswell hit .384 with 22 walks, Mikayla Faulkner hit .378 with nine homers and 51 RBI, Ashely Hicks stole 13 bases, and Lyndzie Parker hit .353 with eight homers and 38 RBI.

Pitcher Brandi Schoessler is 12-2 with a 2.94 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 102 innings, and Rachell Collins is 13-10 with a 5.23 ERA. She’s also ranked third in the NWAC with 130 strikeouts in 128 innings.Boyce believes the key to an extended tournament for the team is summed up in one word: Relax.

“We goof around, but when it’s game time, we can get serious,” Boyce said. “We get the most done when we’re laid-back. If we get frustrated, we stray from the team chemistry.”

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Rick is a 29-year veteran of The Daily News, and the lead Lower Columbia College athletics reporter. In addition, he tracks former area prep athletes and assists several other beats. He is a Mark Morris grad with a business management degree from LCC.

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