Drew and Melanie Oord aren’t afraid of playing ball when the stakes are high.
In 2012, Drew finished up his high school baseball career by helping the Kamiakin Braves win the Class 3A state title. Younger sister Melanie, then a sophomore at Kamiakin, sparked the Braves to the first of three consecutive state softball championships.
But they felt like wide-eyed newbies last year when Drew’s Pacific Lutheran University baseball team and Melanie’s Linfield College softball squad made the NCAA Division III tournaments.
PLU finished 2-2 at the South Regional in Georgia. Linfield went all the way to the NCAA Finals in Virginia and lost to eventual champion Tufts in the semifinals.
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The vibe at the national tournament is “super energetic and intense because every team there is really, really good,” said Melanie, who traveled with the Linfield team last year as a freshman. “They’re the top teams in the nation, and every team wants the same thing as you, and they all want it bad. The level of fight is just insane, and the atmosphere — even high school state cannot compare to what we experienced last year.”
This month, the Oords will return to the NCAAs after their teams won the Northwest Conference tournaments, which were held in April in Spokane. Both siblings have been key players in this year’s success.
There’s definitely a little bit of a sibling rivalry, but we’re both rooting for each other at the same time.
“Last year, we were all new to it, so we were all trying to soak it in, get the experience,” said Drew, a senior at PLU. “Then this year, we’re real excited because we know what to expect; we know what it takes to win one of those tournaments. I think our mindset’s a little more businesslike this year rather than awestruck.”
(LOVING) SIBLING RIVALRY
It’s natural for siblings to rib each other, but the ante can be upped when you go to rival schools, as Drew and Melanie do.
They stayed at the same hotel during the conference tournaments in Spokane, and Melanie issued a little challenge to her big brother when they saw each other at breakfast one morning.
“I was like, ‘Hey, are you gonna try to hit well today and beat my batting average?’ ” said Melanie, who leads Linfield with a .456 average. “He just laughed, and he was like, ‘That probably won’t happen, but I’m definitely gonna have a better day than you today.’
“So there’s definitely a little bit of a sibling rivalry, but we’re both rooting for each other at the same time.”
They also push each other, too.
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When they were home last summer, Drew and Melanie practiced together, heading out to an open field or the batting cages.
“It was pretty fun,” Drew said. “I thought I’d do a lot of coaching for her, helping her with her swing, but there wasn’t much to fix, so I would just try to throw strikes and let her hit it as hard as she could.”
Melanie also joined Drew on his runs.
“I was a little worried that she’d kick my butt there for a little bit,” he said. “But luckily, I’m still her older brother, and I’m a little faster still, so I wasn’t too embarrassed.”
What might make Melanie happier than her accomplishments on the field is her brother’s pride in what she has achieved.
“It gives me chills just because growing up, he was always like my idol in sports,” Melanie said. “I always looked up to him, and I wanted to be as good as him. So in my eyes, he still is way better than me, but it’s cool to hear him say that I’m good, too.”
Melanie came to Linfield as a third baseman and played in nine games during her freshman season — a big change from her time at Kamiakin, where she was a four-time all-conference player.
“It was hard, but I didn’t expect to just walk in and have a starting position last year,” she said. “I’m all about team players and knowing your role, and last year, I knew my role was just to be supportive and cheer on the team and maybe get an inning or two when they had to make a substitution because someone got hurt.”
This spring, the Wildcats (29-13) tried Melanie at catcher before moving her to the outfield. The switch worked out: She played in all 42 games, starting 41, and was named to the all-Northwest Conference first team.
“It kind of makes this year even sweeter because I didn’t just get the (starting) spot,” Melanie said. “I worked hard last year, and I worked hard all summer, and then to get that spot was pretty cool after being a role player last year.”
Drew played and started in all but one game this season for the Lutes (26-17), and he leads the team with a .346 batting average. The accounting major was a recipient of the Lute Career Achievement Award for athletics, academics and community service, and he made the 2016 all-conference baseball second team at utility. He also played linebacker for the PLU football team.
“Throughout the season, you never think about individual honors like that,” Drew said. “You just know that by helping your team the whole year, those awards take care of themselves. Once you do make a regional, you can sit back and enjoy the individual award for a little bit, but you know the main goal is to win the World Series. You can only think about it for a little bit, but then you gotta get back to work.”
Melanie’s team doesn’t have to go far to start its NCAA journey. The Wildcats will return to Spokane for a four-team regional that includes Whitworth, George Fox and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Drew and his teammates won’t learn their regional destination until Monday.
The Oords’ parents, Steve and Susie, will be in Spokane when Linfield starts regional play at 1 p.m. Friday against Whitworth.
Steve, a senior vice president of administration at Gesa Credit Union, and Susie, who teaches at Horse Heaven Hills Middle School in Kennewick, are used to taking up residence at the ballpark this time of year. Last weekend was the first they spent at home together since February, Susie said.
When Drew played in Georgia last year, Steve and Susie took a redeye flight to Atlanta and drove about 90 miles northeast to Demorest. They’re prepared for the possibility of another whirlwind cross-country flight this month.
Hectic months like this aren’t just a celebration of the work Drew and Melanie have put in, but they’re a reminder of all the support their parents have given them over the years.
With this being Drew’s final season, it’s bittersweet.
“They haven’t missed more than 2 percent of our games our whole lives, which is amazing,” Drew said. “They’d have to split up certain weekends, and it’s not like we only played softball and baseball growing up. It was all year round we were playing some type of sport. They had to try to get off work and do certain things that kind of made it a pain for them, but they knew it would really help us, and it has. We couldn’t be more grateful towards them.”