College of Idaho softball seeks to surprise at NAIA World Series

The College of Idaho opens play in the NAIA World Series on Friday in Georgia.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comMay 22, 2014 

CALDWELL — It isn't terribly often when Nickayla Skinner has needed to respond after a poor outing, but the way she and her College of Idaho softball teammates answer has them in a special place.

Skinner, a senior pitcher, and the Coyotes, open NAIA World Series play at 8 a.m. MT Friday against Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) College in Columbus, Ga. It is the furthest the team has ever made it in the postseason.

For the Coyotes (33-16) to even make it to Columbus, Skinner had to rebound from a 10-2 loss to Oregon Tech on May 12 in the NAIA tournament's opening round. She did just that, winning four games in two days, giving up just five runs while the College of Idaho scored 29.

"It's been a roller coaster," Skinner said. "I'm almost glad that we went through that because it showed we can do anything. I've had my ups and downs, but I wasn't going to give up, and neither was my team. I think that says a lot."

A Mountain Home High graduate, Skinner is 24-8 this season with a 1.81 ERA, striking out 241 with only 39 walks in 189‚ innings. Her 81 career wins and 871 career strikeouts are the most in Cascade Conference history.

Skinner has back-to-back losses only twice this season, and coming off a loss, she has a 1.68 ERA in her next start.

"Just the way she bounces back, that's been so impressive," College of Idaho coach Al Mendiola said. "How you handle a bad game, that defines what type of player you are. With her, I feel a little sorry for whoever has to play her after a bad outing."

As Skinner's career winds down, her status as an emotional leader is amplified with each game potentially being her last. After the 10-2 loss to Oregon Tech, Skinner tweeted "letting your team down is not a good feeling." But in those four wins, including two straight over OIT, Skinner was called a "buzz saw" by the Owls' coach and had the crowd buzzing, too.

"Everyone feeds off her, from the team to the crowd," Mendiola said. "She's the one applauding her team for making a big play as much as everyone applauds her. That makes her and this team unique, that camaraderie."

Making the first trip to the World Series in school history, and coming from a place like Idaho, not well-known on the national softball scene, the Coyotes approach this week like they did when it was do-or-die two weekends ago.

With a win Friday morning, the Coyotes will move on to face No. 3 Auburn-Montgomery (Ala.) at 2 p.m. Saturday, or the loser of No. 4 Olivet Nazarene-No. 10 William Carey at 11 a.m. Saturday.

"Surprise is going to be our best weapon," said catcher Destiny Turner, a Mountain View High grad. "I don't think we'll be taken too seriously. We're really motivated."

Nineteen of the 26 players on the Coyotes' roster hail from Idaho.

After falling shy of the Cascade Conference title, losing in the conference tournament and staving off elimination in the national tournament, resilience runs through the Coyotes.

As an underdog, which they will be in Georgia as the 10th seed out of 10 teams, it's where the team has thrived.

"It's a little Cinderella story," Skinner said. "We're relishing it. We're excited to prove something."

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