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Glads eye another crown

CAPITAL SOFTBALL: The Gladiators should be in the thick of things, with eight starters returning

GLADSTONE - It will be tough for Gladstone's girls softball team to top last season, when the Gladiators won their first league title since 1988 and their first trip to the state quarterfinals since 1991.

But no one's counting the Gladiators out as Capital Conference title contenders this spring. They've lost all-state shortstop Jessie Jones to graduation. But the eight other players who started for the Gladiators on defense in last year's quarterfinal game with 2007 state champion Central are all back.

Even the state's coaches like the Gladiators' chances. The Glads were ranked fourth in the state in a preseason coaches poll. Cascade was ranked eighth.

The Gladiators unseated the five-time defending Capital Conference champion Cougars last year.

Gladstone first-year head coach Bruce Mortier says he sees Cascade as 'the favorite' this year. And he says he expects North Marion to be tough.

'The key for us is going to be pitching and hitting - again,' said Mortier, who was varsity assistant a year ago. 'I think we're solid all the way around on defense.'

The Gladiators are off to a pretty good start this season, with non-league wins over Astoria (6-0) and Class 6A West Linn (11-1), and a decisive conference victory at Estacada (9-0). They stumbled a bit last Friday, losing 4-3 at Stayton.

'We left our bats on the bus,' said Mortier. 'We left runners on third three times.'

Pitching appears to be a strength. Senior Brittany Wagner, a second-team all-conference selection, is back. And she is joined by junior Jillian Marl, a transfer from Oregon City.

The two teamed up to throw a two-hitter at Estacada, where they combined for six strikeouts.

Wagner struck out seven, walked no one and allowed just one earned run in five innings of relief at Stayton.

'I look at both of them as my No. 1 pitcher,' said Mortier. 'We'll probably pitch two pitchers in most games, just like last year.'

Mortier said that both Wagner and Marl have a variety of off-speed pitches that they can throw for strikes.

The Gladiators return four first-team all-conference players: senior Corissa Santos (first base), juniors Tamara Feb (catcher) and Moriah Spreeman (outfield), and sophomore Bailie Foxworthy (second base).

Honorable mention all-conference outfielder Brittany Kauffman also returns, along with third baseman Cayla Dean and outfielder Robin Greer.

The Gladiators have also gained a standout athlete in senior Emily Tsugawa, who elected not to play last year after starting as a sophomore. Tsugawa has been starting in the outfield.

Freshman Elisa Breashears has been getting it done for the Gladiators at shortstop.

The Gladiators have juggled their lineup a bit, while Feb rests a sore shoulder. Santos has filled in for Feb behind the plate.

They also had to make some additional adjustments last week, when Feb, Santos, Greer and junior Amanda Schumaker were on an educational trip to the East Coast.

The Gladiators only picked up three hits at Stayton, but until then they'd been hitting the ball, earning a .314 team batting average for their first three games.

Led by Spreeman (2-for-4) and Breashears (2-for-4), eight different Gladiators put their bats on the ball for hits at Estacada.

Santos went 2-for-4 and Foxworthy hit a triple at Stayton.

The Gladiators (3-1, 1-1) return to league play next Wednesday, when they play La Salle (0-1, 0-1) on the road.

They have a showdown scheduled with Cascade (3-2, 1-1), at Cascade, on Friday, April 4. The Cougars got upset by North Marion (3-0, 2-0) in an extra-inning game last Friday.

Mortier is the Gladiators' eighth head coach in the last nine seasons.

'I'm glad I'm there,' said Mortier. 'The kids are great and the parents are great….

'I love being with the kids and I love the game of softball. I just hope I can help them be better softball players and better people overall.'

Mortier, who has 18 years of experience coaching Little League, Amateur Softball Association and high school softball, assisted first-year coach Katie Grisham in coaching Gladstone's varsity last year. Between working on her master's degree and teaching school at an alternative school in Oregon City, Grisham did not have the time available to coach the Gladiators this season, Mortier said.