by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge freshman catcher Brooke Johnson will be one of the young players the Skyhawks count on this season for defense and hitting at the dish.

On the outside looking in the past three years in the Metro’s softball title picture, Southridge wants to get back to its rightful place —at the top of the league, competing deep into the postseason.

The Skyhawks think they have the pieces to do it too, and after finishing fourth in Metro last year, Southridge (7-2) has started the season on the right foot.

“We’re going to shoot for the Metro League title,” said co-head coach Rob Ray. “We seem to compete pretty well within the league. Sometimes it’s about positioning and where you’re at three-quarters of the way through the season. But, we’re here to win and play to win. Our goal is to win Metro and position ourselves for the postseason.”

Ray said Southridge’s hot start was surged by strong hitting and timely pitching in the circle. With the exception of a 7-2 loss to West Linn on Friday, the No. 6 Skyhawks have scored a plentiful amount of runs and come ready to play. So far, the Skyhawks lead the Metro in scoring with 74 runs, many of which came during a stellar spring break showing at the North Medford Invitational.

“I think it’s a pretty good group,” said Ray. “We have a few seniors, but we’re young. Most of them need to learn how to compete, how to take the ball and basically stuff it. The hard thing is when you don’t compete, you kind of play at the level that you’re competing.”

“I feel like we’ve worked well as a team,” added freshman catcher Brooke Johnson. “I think we can be a strong team if we keep working and communicating.”

Senior third baseman Erin Bonzer is a second-team all-Metro league pick hitting in the three spot for the Skyhawks. Sophie Herman was also a second-team selection last year at second base, and is moving over to shortstop as a junior.

“I think we have a really good chance at finishing at the top of the league, and going far in the playoffs,” said Bonzer. “We have some really good pitching. We have some solid defense and good hitting. It’s all there, we just need to string it together.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior third baseman Erin Bonzer said she expects the Skyhawks to be back near the top of Metro this season after a strong preseason.

“The team chemistry is really good this year too,” said Kylie Kushiyama. “We’re all getting along and keeping each other up.”

Ray said Herman is “probably Southridge’s best overall athlete” who can swing the bat well and guide the infield defensively. Senior second baseman Kushiyama hits second in the order and has “improved every year she’s been in the program” according to Ray. Kushiyama was an honorable mention all-Metro nod last year. With Aloha and Westview showing well in the preseason, Bonzer noted Southridge’s solid 7-2 start only gives the Skyhawks hope that they’ll be in the midst of a Metro title pursuit.

“We competed against them last year and I think we’ve only improved since then,” said Bonzer. “We lost a couple seniors, but we came back with some really good players. We have a great freshman catcher (Johnson). We’ve shifted the infield around, and we’re stronger than we have been the past couple of years. I think we really have a shot at taking them.”

Left-hander Morgan Penn and righty Kalee Mabray are again splitting the pitching duties after solid freshman seasons that saw both hurlers pick up all-league honors. Ray said each is learning the nuances of pitching, rather than just trying to throwing gas by hitters during every at-bat.

“Once they get to the point and start controlling the circle, they’ll have better outcomes,” said Ray. “The league depends on who dominates the pitching circle. Westview and Jesuit should be good. Some teams can sneak up on you. If you play a team you’re supposed to beat three times, who knows, you might lose a game by a few runs. It comes down to the mental focus with our group.”

Bonzer said defense will always be a constant, but the deciding factor in Southridge’s season could be hitting consistently and linking big-run games together by coming mentally prepared at the dish.

“We need to time the pitcher right in the beginning of the game, and think ahead of time what she’s going to throw to us,” said Bonzer. “Just keeping our minds in the game, we have strong defense. We don’t make a lot of errors. If we keep that together, we work so well together that it’ll all come together.”

Most of Southridge’s roster plays some form of ASA ball during the summer, so they’re used to playing as many as four or five games in a day. During the spring season, however, competing every other day draws out the Metro season and makes every game vital in the OSAA postseason power rankings.

“We can’t take any team lightly,” said Ray. “When it’s game day, they have to play. The way the state system is, you have to play to win every day. We just need to get better on the mental side of the game. The physical side will come because they’ve all played pretty well.”

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