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Young Laker softball team eager to play

When a team loses as many seniors as Lake Oswego's softball team did last year, you don't usually expect the coach to say this year's squad will likely be better.

But that's what happens when you're fortunate enough to return some of your top contributors and add five talented freshmen. As a result, Lake Oswego will look to make the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season this spring.

The Lakers have four seniors this year and coach Don Hunt believes they will be the 'heart and soul' of the team.

Those seniors are Chloe Longfellow, Cori Groza, Maggie Sholian and Taylor Hemzacek.

Hemzacek will handle the pitching duties for the Lakers this year. She showed flashes of her potential last season and has only improved in the offseason.

'We've taught her a rise ball to go along with the tremendous drop ball she already has and I think that will help her close out some games,' Hunt said.

Junior Danielle Meeker will be the team's No. 2 pitcher and she is currently recovering from a broken thumb on her glove hand.

With so many young players on this year's team, Hunt is anxious for the first game, which took place Wednesday against Central Catholic. (The Rams were the state runners up last year and knocked Lake Oswego out of the playoffs.)

Virtually the entire team has been hitting the ball well in early practices which is always an encouraging sign.

Sholian, a first-team all-league catcher will be a key player in the Lakers' line-up and outfielder Groza has had 'a banner start to the season' according to Hunt.

Centerfielder Julia Klitzke has also improved all facets of her game from last year. It was difficult for Hunt to keep from naming his entire team when asked who had been playing well in practice.

Freshmen Molly Pyle, who can play third base, shortstop and catcher and Katie Phelps, a utility infielder, have each showed prowess at the plate while outfielder Erin Haagenson has been trying to play their way into the starting line-up.

'We're just pounding the ball right now. Erin's a great story because she's worked so hard and I never would have believed she'd be a varsity player as a freshman,' Hunt said.

Another early surprise has been the play of junior Kate Childs, who joined the team late after the basketball season.

'Kate's off to a phenomenal start. It's crazy. Most of our kids are hitting better right now than they were at the end of last season,' Hunt said.

Sophomore Jackie Jenkins and junior Alli Farmer have also been playing solidly at first base for Lake Oswego.

The team also has shown great chemistry early in the year and has been working hard to get into game shape.

'We're focused and it's just been a lot of fun so far. It's a great group of girls,' Hunt said.

Lake Oswego is expected to be in the playoff hunt again this season but, as usual, the Three Rivers League will be extremely competitive.

Putnam is the odds on favorite to take the league title and may end up being one of the best teams in the state while Oregon City and Clackamas will also field strong squads. Lakeridge and West Linn could also prove to be spoilers.