From left: Zoe LeBreton, Kaleyah Crichton-Tunai, Jeilane Stewart, Maddie Brock, Keilani Crichton-Tunai, Despina Seufalemua.
From left: Zoe LeBreton, Kaleyah Crichton-Tunai, Jeilane Stewart, Maddie Brock, Keilani Crichton-Tunai, Despina Seufalemua.

It took only four pitches into Thursday's season opener for heavy-hitting The Dalles to pick up where it left off last softball season.

Senior Keilani Crichton-Tunai ripped a two-run home run in the top of the first inning as the reigning 4A champion Riverhawks, ranked No.1 in the OSAAtoday 4A preseason coaches poll, rolled to an 8-2 win at No. 2 Scappoose in a rematch of last year's semifinal.

It was one of three home runs in the game for The Dalles, which last year blew away the state record by going deep 70 times. Senior Jeilane Stewart and junior Maddie Brock also blasted homers against Scappoose.

“We're trending to beat our 70-home run record,” coach Lindy Macnab said with a laugh.

The Riverhawks have a long way to go to match their power output, but they could challenge the record considering their returning players accounted for 53 home runs in 2023.

The lineup features junior Despina Seufalemua (13 home runs last season), Stewart (12), senior Zoe LeBreton (11), Keilani Crichton-Tunai (eight), senior Kaleyah Crichton-Tunai (six) and Brock (four).

“These girls really are powerful,” Macnab said. “They're not just barely clearing the wall.”

The team did suffer a setback, though, with 4A player of the year Madalynn Sagapolutele – who hit a team-high 14 home runs as a freshman last season – transferring to Gresham.

“That's a big loss,”Macnab said. “She was a phenomenal freshman catcher with so much power. We miss her.”

Macnab, a member of The Dalles' only other state title team in 1994, took over as coach last season and led the Riverhawks to a 26-3 record, finishing the year with a 21-game winning streak. They hit .422 as a team and averaged 12.0 runs per game, winning by an average margin of 9.4 runs.

They exceeding all expectations, capping it off with a 16-0, five-inning rout of top-seeded Henley in the state championship game.

“Most of what they achieved last year wasn't even on my radar,” Macnab said.

Expectations will be much higher in 2024.

“I obviously would love for us to repeat this year, and I know that's what the girls want, as well,” Macnab said. “Hopefully, if we just stay focused, we'll be able to get there. There's no reason we can't with the level of talent that these girls still carry.”

The Riverhawks certainly won't be sneaking up on anyone.

“The girls do feel like there's a bit of a target on their back,” Macnab said. “But I tell them that that's what you always want when you play. You want people to be out to get you so that you can rise to the occasion.”

Much will depend on the pitching of Seufalemua, who takes over as ace after the graduation of Kennedy Abbas (20-3, 2.26 ERA, 179 strikeouts in 130 innings), the 4A pitcher of the year. Abbas now pitches at Eastern Arizona College, a two-year school.

Seufalemua has good velocity (near 60 mph) but pitches more to contact than Abbas. Against Scappoose, she scattered nine hits and did not record a strikeout.

“She doesn't have the variety of pitches that Kennedy had, but she's working really hard on hitting her locations,” Macnab said. “She has a nasty change-up. She's going to be just fine.”

Stewart, who switches from outfield to catcher, will continue as the leadoff hitter, where she hit .447 last season. She is followed in the order by third baseman Keilani Crichton-Tunai (.482, 33 RBIs), shortstop LeBreton (.448, 50 RBIs), Seufalemua (.524, 44 RBIs), second baseman Brock (.333) and center fielder Kaleyah Crichton-Tunai (.425, 41 RBIs).

The Riverhawks' challenging nonleague schedule includes 4A contenders such as No. 2 Scappoose, No. 3 Pendleton, No. 4 Henley and No. 5 Astoria. They also will play 3A No. 3 Yamhill-Carlton and 6A teams Barlow and Clackamas.

“I think they were a little nervous knowing that our schedule was going to be stacked with top teams,” Macnab said. “But these girls can handle it. After going to Scappoose and having a nice season-opening game, it was a nice confidence-booster, like, 'Well, maybe we are ready for this.'”