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Apollos, Warriors ready to race

But Beaverton, Southridge and Westview all think they have what it takes to make the playoffs too
by: Jaime Valdez WARRIOR SENIOR — Aloha senior Serenil Sierra hopes to lead her team to another Class 6A state playoff berth in 2011.

Into the great wide open.

That may be as apt a theme song for this year's Metro League softball race as any other.

While Sunset has led the league in each of the last two seasons - advancing each time to the Class 6A state championship game - the Apollos' advantage is decidedly smaller this year.

'I think the league is a little more balanced this year,' said Southridge coach Wilbur Charters. 'I think the league is much more wide open than it ever has been.'

And the rest of the Metro is lining up to take their best shots at the Apollos, and at winning the league championship.

'I've still got to pick Sunset because they've got their pitcher and catcher back,' said Westview coach Ronda McKenzie. 'And they've got some great kids back who were on the bench last year but definitely can play.'

Not everyone, however, is sold on the Apollos as favorite.

'This year is a real toss-up with most of the Metro teams having the potential of doing well,' said Beaverton coach Jim Marron. 'But at this point, I would give Aloha, Southridge and Beaverton the best shot … for the automatic berths, but it really could be anyone.'

I think it will be 'Sunset, Aloha, Southridge, and I think the dark horse pick is Beaverton,' said Aloha coach Steve Reynolds. 'They've got some pieces in place. But I think this year could be more of an 'Anybody can do anything' kind of year.'

Following are previews of the Metro League's varsity softball teams.

ALOHA

ALOHA - Aloha broke through in 2010, and broke through big-time.

The Warriors, coming off a one-win league season in 2009, battled to third in the 2010 Metro season, won a state playoff berth for the first time since 2003, then battled all the way to the state quarterfinals before finally being eliminated in their best season since 2001.

Now, Aloha would like more of the same.

'I think we have a good chance,' said Aloha coach Steve Reynolds. 'But for us, a lot depends on our shortstop position. It's how that position comes out that will determine how we do.'

The Warriors enter 2011 with a first-team all-leaguer back at pitcher in senior Serenil Sierra, a second-teamer in sophomore third baseman Katie Newton, and an honorable mention pick in sophomore right fielder/pitcher Kiana Wood.

'When she gets warmed up and going, she's good at hitting her spots and throwing the pitch she needs to get people out,' Reynolds said of Sierra. 'If she can do that again, she can be good.'

Around the rest of the infield, Aloha will look to sophomore Alex Portesi and junior Ryan Patterson at catcher, senior Shelby Newton, Patterson and freshman Kaylee Barden at first base, sophomore Rachel Thompson and freshman Alyssa Locke at second, freshman Michelle Silva and Kaitlin Buchanan at shortstop, and Katie Newton and senior Desirae Levasseur at third.

'Shelby and Ryan have really been stepping up their play, and Katie's making some great plays too,' Reynolds said. 'We're covered in a lot of places, but how (shortstop) fills in will tell how we do.'

In the outfield, Aloha will use Wood in right, senior Anna Moore in center, along with either Shelby Newton, Silva, Portesi, Locke, Levasseur or Barden.

BEAVERTON

BEAVERTON - There's a reason that 'Beaver' rhymes with 'believer.'

This year's Beaverton softball team may have been last in the Metro League in 2010, but they sure don't plan on being there again in 2011.

The Beavers open the new year with three second-team all-leaguers in the fold - senior pitcher Molly Tyler, junior shortstop Megan John and junior second baseman Shelby Wiglesworth - and the confidence that 2011 will be better than 2010.

'There is no reason why the Beavs shouldn't finish in the top three with the players we have,' said Beaverton coach Jim Marron. 'The key to our success is ourselves and focusing on executing our game.'

Around the rest of the infield, the Beavers will also use senior Moriah Kimmer at pitcher, senior Sarah Lewis at catcher, sophomore Kristy Rutz at first base, Wiglesworth at second, John and senior Stephanie White at shortstop, and sophomore Ellen Hurd at third.

Marron said that he believes that the two-headed pitching combination of Tyler and Kimmer will keep the Beavers in most of their games this season.

'Molly throws hard with a 60-plus (miles per hour) fastball, but lots of pitches to keep the batters guessing,' Marron said, adding that Kimmer 'is a control pitcher with lots of pitches and movement and a couple of new ones to mix things up.'

In the outfield, senior Stephanie White and freshman Emily will go in left field, senior Ruby LaFollette and Emily John will play center, and senior Gracie Coburn is due to handle right field.

'We have six seniors on this year's team and they are ready for good things to happen,' Marron said.

JESUIT

BEAVERTON - The Jesuit softball team has been one of the Metro League's standard bearers over the past six seasons, winning one state championship, reaching two semifinals, and making another quarterfinal match-up during that run.

And the Crusaders may well scale those heights again in 2011, but the challenge this year may be greater than at any time in recent years. Jesuit graduated five all-leaguers from last year's Metro runner-up, and further, enter the new year with its best pitcher - sophomore Cozette Palmer - sidelined with an injury that may wipe out her entire season.

'We're going to have to play good defense,' said Jesuit coach Jim Speciale. 'Our pitching will be young and inexperienced, so we'll need to throw strikes and catch the ball.'

The cupboard is hardly bare at Jesuit, though, with sophomore Makaela O'Malley back at shortstop after earning first team all-league honors in 2010, while senior Rachel Illias is back at second after winning a second-team nod a year ago, as did junior catcher Maddie Marquard.

Around the rest of the infield, Jesuit will call on junior Halley Flake, freshman Hailey Malin and junior Mackenzie Joseph at pitcher, Marquard, freshman Emily Allen and sophomore Sheridan Garrett at catcher, sophomore Jessica Wyatt at first, and freshman Marissa Renda and Marquard at third.

In the outfield, Jesuit will look to sophomore Patricia Brashear and sophomore Macy Naughton in left field, Flake and Malin in center, and freshman Ali Schultheis in right.

And while Speciale absolutely believes in his team's young talent, he knows that it is indeed young.

'They're a great group of kids, but right now, we're making youth mistakes and we're kicking the ball around,' he said.

SOUTHRIDGE

BEAVERTON - The 2010 season was, to be honest, difficult for a Southridge team that has long been one of the Metro League's best.

But the Skyhawks, bolstered by an influx of young and solid pitching, believe that 2011 may well hold a return to the success the team has so often created over most of the past decade. Indeed, after seeing a nine-year state playoff streak snapped last year, Southridge is ready to get back to the postseason.

'Pitching-wise, I think we'll be as good as we've been in a long time,' said Southridge coach Wilbur Charters. 'I think we'll have as good pitching as there is in our league.'

That pitching will come from sophomore Cheyenne Mendenhall and sophomore Mackenzie Spencer, along with senior Olivia Gonzalez, and their success will pave the way for Southridge's 2011 success.

'McKenzie throws a little harder, but they both have different go-to pitches,' Charters said of his two sophomore hurlers. 'They both have their strengths.'

The Hawks have more strengths too, led by senior center fielder Abby Komin and right fielder Gonzalez - both first-team all-leaguers last year.

'Abby and Olivia are both really going to help us at the plate,' Charters said.

Around the rest of the infield, freshman Erin Bonzer and sophomore Britney Bradley will go at catcher, junior Tori Gentile will play first base, Bonzer and Bradley are at second, sophomore Shae Nelson returns at shortstop, and hard-hitting junior Bailey Kasler (she has two home runs in Southridge's first five games) moves over to third.

In the outfield, Southridge will call on sophomore Page Neslanik in left, Komin in center and Gonzalez in right.

SUNSET

CEDAR MILL - Sunset has been the biggest thing going in Metro League softball for two years running now, reaching the Class 6A state championship game in both 2009 and 2010.

But lots of folks expect Sunset - which graduated eight seniors from last year's Metro champion (six of them all-leaguers - to take a step back this year.

The Apollos, however, have different ideas.

'We lost some very good athletes (but) we talk this year about carrying the torch forward, and using our preseason to become the kind of team that gets back to OSU for another shot,' said Sunset coach Spencer Mills. 'I do expect us to be there at the end again.'

And why not? The Apollos bring back three all-leaguers, that group led by first-team junior pitcher Jessie Moore (a player who's started the past two state title games for Sunset), first-team senior catcher Tasha Silvius, and second-team senior outfielder Angie Umscheid (the Player of the Game for Sunset in the 2009 state championship).

Further, the team features a number of talented players who have been patiently developing their skills and biding their time over the past two seasons, that group including senior left fielder Shelby Hankee (a starter in the 2009 state championship game), junior third baseman Erin Gray, junior first baseman/right fielder Anne Marie Richards, and senior second baseman/shortstop Katie Beasley.

'We've got some girls who didn't have starring roles over the last two years who are real good,' Mills said. 'We're just building.'

Beyond that group, junior Beverly Miller will also play a huge role on this year's team, stepping in to handle the shortstop position and also serve as the team's second pitcher. 'She's looked very good in the preseason,' Mills said.

Also due for varsity time this year are sophomore Dakota Stewart at catcher and first base, sophomore utility player Erica Lipski, and freshmen utility players Jade Stewart and Amelia Turnquist.

WESTVIEW

ROCK CREEK - Westview will be in the mix.

The Wildcats, coming off a third-place Metro League finish in 2010, believe they'll be right there again in 2011, but they also know they'll need to be at their best to compete with the league's best. And they'd very much like to extend their postseason exploits to more than just the one game they played last season.

'If we can play good defense and hit well, we can stay in games,' said Westview coach Ronda McKenzie. 'But we're going to have to play complete games.'

This year's Westview team is led by junior catcher Kayla Luken and senior center fielder Amanda Evola - both returning first-team all-leaguers - by senior second baseman Kendra Day (a second-teamer in 2010), and by senior left fielder Chelsea Eytel (an honorable mention pick).

'Amanda Evola, Chelsea Eytel and Kendra Day - those are the senior leaders,' McKenzie said. 'And Luken and a couple of the freshman are pretty good too.'

Also due for prominent roles this year are junior shortstop Taylor Garrett, junior pitcher Sarah Lawhorn, senior pitcher Katie Lyda, senior first baseman Sammy Westover, freshman third baseman Makenah Robarts, senior right fielder Kelsey Buck, freshman right fielder Christy Garrett, and sophomore first baseman/third baseman Kelsey Day.

Key to the team's success, McKenzie emphasized again, will be its ability to play defense and score runs.

'We're going to have to outscore people,' she said. 'Our pitching will be good, but not dominant, so we'll have to play good defense and hit.'

The rest of the varsity lineup includes junior third baseman/outfielder Haley Lowman, junior outfielder/first baseman Megan Tamblyn, freshman outfielder Devon Jordan, and freshman first baseman TJ Harden.