The Kingsmen return a veteran lineup, including one of the TRL's top pitchers

MILWAUKIE - Fielding a veteran lineup in a new league - against schools with similar enrollment - the Rex Putnam Kingsmen should be among the top teams in Northwest Oregon Conference softball this spring.

Only two players - centerfielder Danielle Sayres and second baseman Katie Parr - graduated off of last year's team that placed third in the Three Rivers League.

'Compared with last year, I think we're a stronger team,' said Putnam coach Tiffany Strnad. 'Our experience and maturity should make us a much stronger team.

'Our pitchers have taken steps in the off-season to improve themselves.'

The Kingsmen's toughest opponents in the league should be Sherwood and Liberty, which finished third and fourth respectively in last year's NWOC standings, along with Wilsonville, which is off to a 4-2 start this spring.

Last year's NWOC champion, Glencoe and last year's NWOC runner-up, Century, which met in the 2010 state final, are no longer in the league.

The Kingsmen closed out last season strong, defeating every TRL team except Clackamas in the final round of the TRL season, and advancing to the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

Top returnees for the Kingsmen include seniors Megan Malvick, Kirsten Ankeny and Jill Smith; and juniors Missy Bottinelli and Breann Morrison.

Malvick returns to shortstop, where she garnered first-team all-league honors a year ago.

Ankeny, a third-year starter, returns to play third base and catch. She was a 2010 second-team all-league selection as an infielder.

Smith returns to the outfield, where she also received all-league recognition.

Bottinelli and Morrison both return with two years of experience pitching. Bottinelli made first-team all-league as a pitcher her sophomore year; Morrison gained honorable mention as a utility infielder and as a designated hitter.

Others returning from last year's team include: juniors Courtney Lightner (catcher/outfield), Anna Rau (first base) and Emily Lauder (catcher/second); and sophomore Alexa LeLand (outfield).

The Kingsmen got off to a 5-2 start in preseason, defeating The Dalles 7-2, Wilson 10-0, Grant 10-0, Hermiston 4-2, and Hood River 7-1, while dropping 1-0 heartbreakers to Class 6A Century and to Class 6A McMinnville.

Morrison fanned 10 batters, walked two and allowed only two hits in the 1-0 loss at Century; Bottinelli fanned nine and walked no one while scattering three hits in the five-inning shutout of Grant.

Malvick went 3-for-4 at the plate with a home run in the route of Wilson.

Smith went 3-for-4 in the rout of Grant. Bottinelli smacked a triple; Morrison pounded out two doubles.

Malvick had two doubles in the Hood River game.

'I think that between our pitching and offense, it should help us stay high up in league,' said Strnad. 'And we've been pretty solid defensively as well.'

The Kingsmen entertain district rival Clackamas this Friday at 5 p.m. at Hood View Park in their final tune-up for the NWOC league season.

They begin conference play next week, hosting Parkrose on Tuesday (April 5).

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