Sadie Knutson had made the brutal decision — after 10 years of playing the game she loved — that her softball career would be coming to an end.
Knutson, a senior pitcher at Rochester, had hopes of playing college ball near home, but every offer she received over the past two years came from East Coast schools. That was too far to be away from her family.
So she made plans to attend Central Washington University, not to play softball but to focus solely on her academic career and work toward her goal of becoming a forensic psychologist.
“Playing college softball was my dream for a long time,” Knutson said. “I wanted to stay close to home but it was mostly East Coast offers. I kind of lost hope and was in the mindset that maybe I don’t want to play college softball.”
She had no idea that fate would soon come calling.
It didn’t take long. The first call was from Fabian Gomez, coach of her travel ball team, Northwest Speed.
Gomez told her Eastern Oregon University’s softball program had contacted him and they wanted to evaluate her during a pitching session. The Mountaineers had seen videos of Knutson pitching on her National Club Softball (NSCA) profile online — and they liked what they saw.
“I was like, ‘I’ve gotta take this opportunity,” Knutson said. “It ended up being the best thing that could have happened. It was the best news I’ve ever received in my life.”
So Knutson and her family drove six hours to La Grande, Oregon on a Saturday in early February. Was she nervous?
“I wasn’t completely nervous, because I’m confident in my pitching, but I just wasn’t sure what they were expecting,” Knutson said.
Knutson certainly had the high school accolades. She fanned nine batters in a complete-game victory over Ridgefield in the 2A District 4 semifinals last season. She finished the year 4-1, with a 2.88 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 10 earned runs in 24.1 innings.
She can hit, too, batting .333 with 10 runs, 14 hits, nine RBIs and one homer.
But the Mountaineers were mostly interested in her pitching — specifically her changeup.
Knutson had recently switched her grip on her changeup, going from a horseshoe to a flip, which greatly reduced the speed while still maintaining the same arm-motion as her fastball — a deadly combination to fool unwary batters.
It’s so potent that while her fastball tops out at 58 miles per hour, her changeup comes in at a crawling 38 miles per hour.
“That pitch took the longest time for me to work on,” Knutson said.
She has plenty of other weapons in her arsenal as well, including a screwball, curveball and — on occasion — a slow-curve.
When she stepped on Eastern Oregon’s diamond to begin her bullpen session, the Mountaineers brought all their players out to face her in the batter’s box — 20 batters in all. Knutson went to work, unleashing her changeup with a 20-plus MPH difference in speed from her fastball.
When the dust settled, Knutson had struck out five of the 20 batters she faced.
“It went very, very well,” Knutson said.
The Mountaineers soon offered her a scholarship package and she verbally committed on March 9.
Now, Knutson will be joining a team that is currently 30-11 and 16-5 in Cascade Collegiate Conference play.
The Mountaineers have been slowly climbing the national NAIA rankings this season, first receiving votes in the NAIA Softball Coaches’ Top-25 poll with 22 votes on March 9. In the latest poll, released March 23, the Mountaineers received 28 votes.
For now, Knutson plans to finish her high school season with the Warriors before playing one final season of travel ball and then heading to Eastern Oregon in either August or September to begin a new chapter in her life.
“I’m really excited for my journey the next four years,” Knutson said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.”