Softball down under

Former Woodland High standout plays for U.S. in Australia

Former Woodland Regional High School softball player and Prospect resident Samantha Lee pitches during the Academy Challenge in Sydney, Australia in June. –CONTRIBUTED

A 10,000-mile flight to play softball? Former Woodland High standout and Prospect resident Samantha Lee just did it.

“I’m not usually a good flyer either, so it was tough,” Lee said with a laugh.

Lee, a recent graduate of Becker College in Worcester, Mass., spent almost two weeks last month on a trip to Australia representing the United States in the Academy Challenge in Sydney. She and the rest of the American group became the first U.S. squad to win the tournament in two decades of competition.

Lee’s participation came through USA Athletes International, an organization that selects athletes to play in international competitions throughout the world. Lee was recommended to the organization by her college coaches and received an invitation last fall.

“I thought (about it) for a couple days, but I decided it wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up,” Lee said. “I don’t know if I ever would have been able to travel to Australia otherwise, and we got to play in the stadium where the 2000 Olympics were held, so that was awesome.”

The group departed from the United States on June 10 and enjoyed some tourist time in Sydney, where players visited Sydney Harbor, toured the world-famous Sydney Opera House, and hung out on Bondi Beach.

The Americans’ first game was an exhibition against Australia’s national feeder team, which produces some of the top pitchers in NCAA Division I softball. One of those pitchers is Gabbie Plain, who as a freshman just led Washington to the Women’s College World Series championship series. While Plain wasn’t in attendance that night, the Americans faced a pair of pitchers headed to Utah and Louisiana-Lafayette.

“That was very good competition,” said Lee, who helped Team USA earn a 5-5 tie in the exhibition.

Former Woodland Regional High School softball player and Prospect resident Samantha Lee, second from the right in the front row, represented the United States in the Academy Challenge in Sydney, Australia in June. –CONTRIBUTED

The U.S. squad then played six games against Australian teams in the Academy Challenge. The Americans went undefeated during the tournament and Lee earned two victories in the circle, including one shutout. Lee played third base in the other four games.

With a few days left on the trip before heading back to the States, Lee and her teammates flew to Brisbane for some surfing lessons and kayaked on Byron Bay. Afterwards, they hopped another flight to visit the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, where they interacted with koalas and kangaroos.

Lee, who graduated from Becker in May with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, was a three-time All-NECC honoree, including first-team accolades in 2016 and 2018. She helped the Hawks win their league title in 2016 and reach the league championship game this spring. She finished her career with a 3.03 ERA and a .337 batting average with 102 hits and 11 homers.

Lee said she’s “forever thankful for the opportunities softball has given me and the memories made along the way.”