Given all the accolades being showered upon Bend's softball team, one of the biggest challenges facing the Lava Bears this season will be not getting caught up in their own hype.
Coming off a dominant 2021 season in which they went 18-1 and outscored opponents 211-11 – allowing four earned runs – the Lava Bears returned all of their starters and entered this year ranked No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 6A preseason coaches poll and No. 47 in the nation by Extra Inning Softball.
Their star pitcher, Addisen Fisher, is the No. 5 sophomore prospect in the country, according to Extra Inning Softball.
“We've been getting way too much publicity,” coach Tom Mauldin said. “Extra Inning has us ranked in the top 50, but I know better than that. We are a very good Northwest team.”
Mauldin said complacency is a concern.
“We're wrestling with that right now,” he said. “One of our first workouts we had 10 girls hit home runs in practice. Well, the next day we must've hit 95 fly balls to center field, and none of them were going out.”
The Lava Bears were on point in the season opener Wednesday, however, cruising to an 11-0, five-inning win at Ridgeview, ranked fifth in the 5A preseason poll.
Fisher threw a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts and one walk. Senior Lena Zahniser and junior Gracie Goewey each had three hits, with Goewey ripping a 240-foot home run into the wind. And senior Violet Loftus had a hit to extend her hitting streak to 20, including all of last season.
On paper, Bend has all the ingredients of a powerhouse. Considering the Lava Bears' brilliance in 2021, their potential for this season seems almost limitless.
“We were working on all cylinders last year. We had a lot of things going for us,” Mauldin said. “We thrive on energy level. Once we get our energy level going this season, we'll be better than we were last year. Everybody is a year older, and everybody, for the most part, is a year better.”
Not only does Bend have four players that are likely to pitch in college – Fisher, Goewey, junior Allison Parker and Zahniser – but the entire lineup is chock-full of talent.
“Probably all nine of our starters will play in college, somewhere between a two-year school and Division I,” Mauldin said.
The 5-foot-11 Fisher is the linchpin. In 56 innings last season, she went 9-0 with 127 strikeouts and no walks. She has mastery of several pitches, which top out at 72 mph.
“Her peel, her rise, her change, they're all A-plus pitches,” Mauldin said.
On top of that, she is an intense competitor.
“She wants to win everything,” Mauldin said. “She has that look like, 'Go ahead and make my day.'”
Fisher is rated as the No. 2 sophomore pitcher in the nation by Extra Inning Softball. Mauldin said that “everybody, and I mean everybody, in the country” is recruiting her.
Fisher, Goewey and Parker put on a pitching clinic last season. Opponents had 29 hits in 19 games against Bend, batting .081 for the year. The Lava Bears combined for eight no-hitters (four perfect games) and seven one-hitters. In two games, they recorded all of their outs by strikeout.
Parker, who has committed to Oregon Tech, throws in the mid-60s mph and Goewey clocks at about 63. Last season, Parker struck out 66 and allowed three hits in 28 innings. Goewey fanned 46 in 22 innings.
At the plate, the Lava Bears are explosive. Fisher, the leadoff batter, and Goewey both set single-season school records by batting .574 last year. Goewey hit a school-record 10 home runs.
“Our first seven are tough outs, really tough outs,” Mauldin said.
Bend was unable to face many of the state's top teams last season due to COVID restrictions. This season, the only game the Lava Bears have scheduled against a team ranked in the preseason coaches poll is co-No. 10 Canby. They hope to get some good competition against top Idaho teams in a tournament at Caldwell, Idaho, March 25-26.
It promises to be a special season for Bend. The Lava Bears, who will return to 5A next year, have never won a state title.
“This should be Bend High School's best team ever,” said Mauldin, 71, who has coached at several small colleges. “We have a lot of versatility, and we have some depth. We're strong, and we'll be strong in 2023.”