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Wildcats and Crusaders ready for softball race

While Southridge, Sunset, Aloha and Beaverton will battle for two other state berths
by: MILES VANCE, FOR THE DEFENSE — Jesuit senior shortstop Ali Junnell (left) hopes to lift her team to another strong Metro League and state playoff run in 2008.

The battle for the 2008 Metro League softball crown may just be the precursor to something even bigger.

As was the case in 2007, when Jesuit and Westview both reached the Class 6A state semifinals, 2008 may indeed yield a state championship battle between two Metro teams - something local fans have been talking about since Westview, Southridge and Jesuit won consecutive state championships in 2004-06.

But there's time for that later - first they've just got to get through league play in one piece.

'It's still going to be Westview and Jesuit. They're the teams to beat,' said Beaverton coach Jim Marron.

'I think you've got to lean toward Jesuit. They're loaded up with seniors. Westview won last year, but you've got to tip your hat to Jesuit winning it with Westview right behind,' said Southridge coach Wilbur Charters said. 'After that, it will be wide open for the last two berths.'

The Crusaders, second to Westview a year ago, would just like to win one of those elusive Metro titles - the year they won the state title they were second in league play.

'We hope to win a Metro title. We'd like to do that and we'd like to get another chance at playing for a state title,' Jesuit coach Jim Speciale said.

Following are previews of the varsity softball teams at the six Metro League high schools.

ALOHA

ALOHA - Aloha cleared a huge hurdle at the end of the 2007 season when it reached the state playoffs for the first time in four years.

Now the Warriors want more of the same.

'We will have to work hard for all of our wins, but I believe in the girls this year and I think we will definitely find our spot in the top three,' said second-year coach Laura Clark.

Aloha returns six players who earned all-league honors last year, led by senior catcher Makenzie Delenikos (2nd team) and including junior right fielder Ashley Casebeer (2nd team), senior left fielder Brittany Sanchez (2nd team), senior third baseman Chantel Worley (honorable mention), sophomore center fielder Stephanie Lascelles (honorable mention) and junior pitcher/shortstop Felicia Woodard (honorable mention).

'Makenzie Delenikos … is focused and confident and a great baserunner,' Clark said. She's 'a rock behind the plate.'

Woodard and sophomore Penny Leggett will handle the pitching duties, and their ability to adapt to varsity level competition will be one of the keys to Aloha's success this year.

'They are both very strong pitchers but neither has much experience pitching at the varsity level,' Clark admitted.

Sophomore Kylie Delenikos will start at first base, sophomore Lucy Leggett and senior Courtney Austin at second, Woodard and Casebeer at shortstop, Worley at third, and Sanchez, Lascelles and Casebeer in the outfield.

Our 'defense looks strong,' Clark said. 'They just need more time working together because it is a new defense and we have difficulties with playing consistantly from game to game.'

And those factors leave Clark with high hopes for 2008.

'I believe we could win league if we can peak at the right time,' she said.

BEAVERTON

BEAVERTON - The 2007 season wasn't one that Beaverton particularly wants to remember, but the youthful Beavers believe that 2008 may be better.

'I think we'll be somewhere in the middle,' said first-year Beaverton coach Jim Marron, who replaces Gary Edwards, now the coach of the Tigard varsity team. 'And I think we'll surprise some of the top teams.'

The '08 Beavers feature just two seniors and four juniors, but those players figure to take critical roles this season. Seniors Hannah McMahon and Stephanie Lilla will both play in the outfield, while the team's juniors - Maddie Evans, Samantha White, Megen Ickler and Caitlin Ellerbe - will go at shortstop, left field, pitcher and right field.

'We're very young, but our seniors and juniors are very experienced,' Marron said.

Ickler will get the most time at pitcher with backup help from freshmen Molly Tyler and Moriah Kimmer.

'Megen is the top gun. She's looking very good. She's throwing hard and all her pitches are working,' Marron said. 'She's really ready for this.'

Freshman Willow Martinson and sophomore Kayla Lauro will catch, Ickler and sophomore Brieanne Vanderpool will play first base, sophomore Hannah Johnson (the team's lone returning all-leaguer) and McMahon will go at second, Evans and McMahon will play shortstop, and sophomore Megan Spooner and Evans will be at third.

'They're very good,' Marron said of his infielders. 'The infield is very solid and we've got a lot of flexibility .'

The outfield will include White, Lilla, Ellerbe, McMahon and freshmen Kristin Kenck and Gracie Coburn.

Marron added that Lauro - who hit her team's first out-of-the-park homer in three years - McMahon and Spooner were all off to strong starts offensively.

'We've got some team speed and the kids have been working hard, but there will be times when it will be a little exciting,' Marron said.

JESUIT

BEAVERTON - The deck is stacked at Jesuit this year.

The Crusaders, '06 state champs and Class 6A semifinalists in '07, bring back seven starters from a year ago - all of them all-leaguers - and hopes of winning Metro and state titles.

'We had a chance last year and we fell short,' said Jesuit coach Jim Speciale, whose team lost to eventual state runner-up Central Catholic in the '07 semis. 'Now, we just don't want to feel that way again.'

The Crusaders will again be led by senior pitcher Paige Hall - the '07 Metro Pitcher of the Year - and Hall's level of success will likely set the tone for the team.

'She's working hard. She's really worked hard in the off-season to get her game back,' Speciale said. 'She's dedicated to finishing her career back in the state championship.'

Around the diamond, Jesuit will call on junior Shikara Lowe (second team) at catcher, senior Lauren Macy and freshman Elizabeth Brenner at first base, senior Kelsey VandeBergh (honorable mention) at second, senior Ali Junnell (first team) at shortstop, and junior Robin Gawlista (first team) at third.

'Defensively, the (middle infield is) just superb,' Speciale said. 'Kelsey and Ali are so sound in knowing what the other one does. They're really into it.'

In the outfield, it will be junior Brittany Wolf - now fully recovered from a knee injury that sidelined her for almost all of '07 - in left, senior Mary Claire Brenner (first team) in center and sophomore Samantha Nelson (second team) in right. Also due for time will be senior Meagan Flier and juniors Sara Moore and Lauren Watson.

While all that experience, defense and firepower look good on paper, Speciale knows that it takes more than stats to win state championships.

'It's going to take some luck this year,' he said. 'Everything has to go perfect for you to win a state title.'

SOUTHRIDGE

BEAVERTON - Southridge graduated a bunch of big guns from its 2007 team, but despite a dearth of seniors, bring back plenty of firepower to contend for a state playoff berth again in '08.

'We've never missed the playoffs and we hope not to break that streak this year,' said Southridge head coach Wilbur Charters.

The '08 Hawks will be led by junior shortstop Taylor Marchi-one and senior center fielder Megan Rupp - both of them first-team all-league picks last year - junior second baseman Erica Fitzgerald (a second-team pick) and junior third baseman Nicole Frayn (honorable mention).

'A lot of them are swinging the bat well,' Charters said. 'But those three (Rupp, Marchione and Fitzgerald) will be our main

players.'

And that quartet will help Southridge stretch its seven-year playoff run to eight this season.

'Sunset has a lot of players coming up, but they're pretty young,' Charters said. 'I think we have a little more experience.'

The Hawks will call on sophomore Karissa Beatty as its top pitcher this year while junior Kelsey Oppat will add depth.

Beatty is 'not overpowering, but she's got a little movement on her ball,' Charters said. 'If she keeps it down and uses her motion, we think she'll do OK.'

Junior Aimee McRobert takes over at catcher this year, sophomore Kirsten Fahlbusch will go at first base, with Fitzgerald, Marchione and Frayn at second, short and third. In the outfield, sophomore Georgie Kelly will start in left, Rupp will play in center and freshman Abby Komin in right, while junior Jocelyn Riggins adds depth.

Together, that group gives Charters good feelings about what's ahead for his young team - Rupp is the team's lone senior.

'Defensively, I think we're pretty strong,' Charters said. 'We're extremely fast in the outfield, which we've never had before, our corners are tough and we have experience up the middle.'

SUNSET

CEDAR MILL - The Apollos are young.

They're improved.

And they're ready to move up the Metro League standings.

Sunset's roster features just two seniors and two juniors leading a crew of 13 sophomores and freshmen that the Apollos hope get them back into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

For their youth, the Apollos do return a pair of first team all-Metro selections in senior Amanda McCoy and sophomore Meghan Lyons. McCoy, at third base and Lyons, at shortstop, give

Sunset a solid left side of the infield.

Leadoff hitter Lyons and cleanup McCoy also are major cogs in an offense that helped the Apollos start 3-0 in 2008 behind 36 runs, capped by a 15-14 win over defending state champion Forest Grove.

Both were joined on the all-league team by junior Jessy Downey and sophomore Sara DelBalzo, each earning honorable mention in 2007. Downey is the Apollos' starting catcher though DelBalzo and sophomore Julia Johnson can fill in. DelBalzo also plays both corner infield spots and bats near the top of the order, while Johnson will find a spot in the lineup at first base or DP. Sophomore Hannah Boyd rounds out the infield at second base.

Senior Brittany Boyd roams centerfield for the Apollos. Sophomores Kristina Trindle (right field) and Sierra Anderson (left field) join Boyd in the outfield, where freshmen Shelby Hankee and Ruby LaFollette will vie for time. Junior Austin Embree could see some action at first, and freshman Angela Umscheid and Tasha Silvius fill utility spots for Sunset.

Sophomore Amanda Najdek heads the Apollos' pitching staff and already combined with sophomore Anna Miller to no-hit perennial playoff team Tualatin this season. Freshman Kelsi Ott also pitches for Sunset.

WESTVIEW

ROCK CREEK - It's been quite a run for Westview, with four state semifinal berths in the last five years and playoff appearances all but two seasons since the school opened in 1994.

The Wildcats are primed to keep that going after returning all but one player off last year's

Metro championship team, which reached the semifinals before losing to the eventual state champion for the second straight year.

'Coming in we were pretty confident,' Westview coach Ronda McKenzie said. 'We didn't come out particularly strong, but obviously we always set our goals high.'

With eight seniors led by 2007 Metro Player of the Year Jenna Krogh and co-Pitcher of the Year Dylan Mizer, the sky's the limit for the Wildcats. Mizer missed a week due to a death in the family, but is rounding into form after a breakthrough season.

'It might take her a couple weeks to be where she wants to be,' McKenzie said.

Krogh, who signed to play at Colorado State, sets the table for Westview's offense as a speedy leadoff hitter and is stellar in centerfield. Senior right fielder Brooke Cole bats second and gives the Wildcats a pair of threats on the bases.

'We expect big things from Jenna,' McKenzie said. 'Brooke is a great baserunner and fast. There's a lot she can do to advance Jenna.'

No. 3 and 4 hitters Ashley Garcia, a sophomore, and senior Jordan Hopkins have the ability to bring both around with one swing. Garcia plays third and is the team's No. 2 pitcher, while Hopkins plays first.

'Both are very good hitters and can hit for power,' McKenzie said. 'They've been our most productive hitters so far.'

McKenzie also said Mizer's bat has 'improved a ton.'

Westview's infield returns intact with senior Kellie Studer at shortstop and junior Jade Kealiinohomoku at second base, while senior Nicole Chombeau is back in left field.

The Wildcats' only hole was at catcher where senior Ashtyn Saueressig and junior Katie Burg will split time. Freshman Amanda Evola is challenging Cole and Chombeau for an outfield spot.