Sandy revs up for a run at the Northwest Oregon title

SOFTBALL PREVIEW - Tough preseason schedule prepares the way

Just 10 months removed from a heart-breaking loss in the first round of state, the Sandy softball team is looking to rebound in a big way.

The Pioneers return seven players from a team that finished 17-7 last year and finished second in the Mount Hood Conference. This year they will be moving to 5A and the Northwest Oregon Conference - a move that has created a sense of uncertainty for coach Laura Smallwood.

'I've tried to research the new league as much as possible,' Smallwood said, 'and we'll only be playing 2 games a week with this league and not 3 like we were in the Mount Hood Conference, but I'm a Sandy grad so I'll miss playing against rivals.'

The Pioneers are stepping into the NWOC as front-runners, as the league has been dominated in recent years by Glencoe, Century and Hillsboro all schools that have moved to the big-school level. Sandy's biggest challengers will likely be last year's third-place team Sherwood (18-10) and fourth-place team Liberty (20-10).

Sandy is led by junior shortstop/pitcher Taylor Copher who is the reigning Mount Hood Conference Player of the Year. Copher will get some help this season from fellow first team all-leaguers Rebekah Degner and Meghan Luebbert.

'I expect us to be competitive and build on our accomplishments last season,' Smallwood said, 'and I think we will be better overall throughout our line-up.'

That lineup averaged 6.17 runs per game last season, breaking into double digits five times and scoring a season-high 20 runs in a regular-season tournament win over McNary. While Smallwood expects to maintain that average, she admits that pitching is where everything begins and ends in softball.

Among the key losses for the Pioneers this season are Dani Ashcraft and Holly Fenwick, both of whom have moved on into the college ranks. Ashcraft is playing for Pacific University this season, while Fenwick is playing at Clackamas Community College.