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Gaston starts new era under first-year coach

Erik Lentz looks to guide Gaston into the playoffs in his first year with the team

In sports, many coaches hold a similar principle: It's not how you start, but how you finish.

For the Gaston High School softball team, the phrase could be adjusted to 'Your start was because of your finish.'

Last season, the Lady Greyhounds went through a rough patch near the beginning of their season, dropping five straight games and falling to a 2-6 record.

As the year wound down, however, Gaston cranked it up, winning seven of its final eight games, including a Northwest League playoff game against the Portland Christian Royals.

After losing an 8-7 nailbiter to Knappa in the next round, the Greyhounds earned a Class 2A/1A state playoff berth against the Central Linn Cobras, who ended Gaston's season with a 6-2 victory.

The Greyhounds finished with a 12-13 overall record (8-4 in league), good enough for third place in the final Northwest League standings.

'I know they wanted to finish a little better than they did,' said first-year head coach Erik Lentz. 'I know they wanted to win a state playoff game. I know the girls that are back this year are encouraged and I know that they want to improve on their finish.'

Although they felt their season was cut shorter than they would have liked, the Greyhounds are back with even higher expectations.

'We feel like we can win league,' Lentz said. 'We feel like all the pieces are in place to do that. We want to win league but also win some non-league games, keep our power ranking high so we can host a game in the playoffs. We'll see what happens.'

Gaston's chances of doing so have increased, considering it will see two key athletes returning for one more year. Cassie Van Dyke, a First Team All-State selection a year ago, comes back to catch for the Greyhounds, while Becca Brown, a Second-Team All-State pick last season, will take the hill as Gaston's ace.

'If we're going to do those things, Becca Brown has to be our leader,' Lentz said. 'She's been a varsity starter for four years. From what she tells me and what our catcher tells me, she's throwing even better this year than she did last year.

'It's softball - you go as far as your pitcher takes you.'

Brown may have the ability to stifle lineups, but the Greyhounds will need offense to provide insurance. That, Lentz said, shouldn't be a problem.

'Offensively, I think that we will be able to manufacture runs,' he said. 'I think that we will get people on base. I think that we are a very strong baserunning team. I also think I have a couple of girls who can drive in runs when we need to. I think we will be fine.'

Lentz praised the Greyhounds' speed, saying that it becomes a huge advantage in manufacturing runs. That asset also plays into Lentz's gameplan.

'We will play aggressively. We will go, go, go all the time,' he said. 'When I coached in Illinois from 1995-2003, the last team I had set the single-game stolen base record for the state. We will run. We will be aggressive on the base paths and we'll make people make plays.'

Right out of the gate, the Greyhounds will be challenged by the same Knappa squad that knocked the Greyhounds out of the league playoffs last season. That three-game set will start next Tuesday, following this week's non-league doubleheader against Gervais.