It didn't seem like much, players running onto the diamond to celebrate victory.

It didn't seem like much, players running onto the diamond to celebrate victory.

But one of them was Kendra Strahm. That she was with the team was one thing. That she could run with them was another.

The former North Medford High softball pitcher enjoyed the pinnacle of success Tuesday when the Linfield Wildcats claimed their first NCAA Division III World Series championship, routing Washington-St. Louis, 10-2, for the crown.

It was finalized when Jena Loop's two-run single in the bottom of the sixth inning put the Wildcats up by eight runs, ending the championship game on the mercy rule and touching off a mad dash.

"My gosh," Strahm said after the team returned early Wednesday morning to its McMinnville campus from Salem, Va., "I don't even know if I can describe it. It was like everything you see on TV, like the Yankees winning the World Series. That's exactly how it was. As soon as she hit the ball, we were gone, that was it."

Not even the brace constricting her left knee could hold back Strahm, a sophomore only six months removed for surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. She came back sooner than expected and helped the Wildcats with a couple of gritty regional performances that kept their postseason alive.

This despite losing 6 or 7 mph off her fastball, said coach Jackson Vaughan, and having to shelve her best pitch, a dropball that breaks away from right-handed hitters, because she couldn't get on top of her plant leg to snap it off.

Last year, Strahm was 17-8 and helped Linfield place fourth at the World Series. She shared starting duties with another freshman, Brittany Miller.

This spring, Strahm turned to her next-best-pitch, a screwball, and worked relentlessly to develop an effective curveball. In the morning before school, at night under the football lights, whenever she and pitching coach Greg Herman could find time.

"She's one of those kids who loves to play the game and be a part of the team," said Vaughan. "She'll do whatever it takes. She's one of the most mentally tough kids we've had. She doesn't let things get to her and she gives everything she has. You don't question that with her at all. She went out every time we asked her to and pitched the best she could."

Strahm finished the season with a 3-0 record and 3.87 ERA. She pitched in 12 games, starting six, and allowed 41 hits in 341/3 innings.

The stats aren't as pretty as she'd like, but beauty, she'd tell you, is in the eyes of the beholder.

On the one hand, the thrill of a national title was indescribable. On the other, "my best day ever," said Strahm, was when she returned to the mound on March 31 against Lewis & Clark. She pitched one relief inning, testing the waters, and struck out the first batter she faced. The Linfield players and fans gave her a standing ovation.

"Everyone feels good when good things happen to good people," said Vaughan. "The girls were super-excited for her first game back, super-excited when she got that first strike and super-excited when she got that first out."

It had been a while coming.

Strahm, a letterwinner six times over in softball and volleyball at North Medford, injured herself in October playing on the softball team's intramural flag football team. Her knee gave out as she sprinted to yank an opponent's flag.

Yes, she got the flag.

"Absolutely," Strahm laughed. "Absolutely. I wasn't going to go down for nothing."

Surgery was performed in late November by Medford orthopedist Steve Chamberlain. He was cautious, unwilling to guarantee Strahm would return to the Wildcats this spring. But with the carrot of a return trip to the World Series ever present and driven by a staunch work ethic, she didn't need one.

She and Miller had been a formidable team the year before.

"She had to do the entire season on her own," said Strahm. "I knew the whole time I was working on my knee, sooner or later, she'd need me. Sooner or later, I'd be able to help the team."

Four months later, Strahm took the hill and got that memorable strikeout.

"At that point, I didn't care how I pitched," said Strahm. "I was just so happy to be pitching because pitching is my life."

Two weeks later, she twirled a five-inning, complete-game win over George Fox, allowing but two hits, and followed in her third start with a one-hit shutout of Pacific.

It wasn't until the West Regionals, however, when the Wildcats triumphed four times in the face of elimination, that she made her most meaningful contributions.

She started and gave Linfield nearly six innings before being relieved by Miller in a 4-3 win over Mississippi College.

In the Wildcats' next game that same day, Miller couldn't get an out in the second inning. Strahm came on for 41/3 innings before being relieved, and Linfield rallied from a 5-0 deficit for an 8-6 triumph.

"Ten innings in one day and my knee was pretty shot," said Strahm.

It was worth it. The following day, the Wildcats twice defeated Redlands to advance to the World Series.

In the World Series, Strahm had a brief relief stint in the opener, then started against the Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Her outing was cut short when a ball hit back at her in the second inning struck her surgically repaired knee.

"I don't know if it shocked me or scared me," said Strahm, "but from then on I wasn't pitching as well."

She came out that inning and Wildcats cruised to a 22-10 victory.

Two wins later, they were national champs.

Linfield loses only two seniors to graduation, so the future is bright.

"I have 110 percent confidence I'll be back even stronger next season," said Strahm. "A little hard work this summer and fall, and we'll back in the World Series in no time."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com