Valley Catholic brings back all but two players from last year's champs
BEAVERTON - Valley Catholic softball coach Roni Illias well knows there's no such thing as a guarantee in softball.
And there isn't. But it sure appears that the defending Class 3A champion Valiants are shaping up to be pretty darn good again in 2008.
Valley Catholic returns an all-state battery in senior Sami Picken, the Class 3A Pitcher of the Year in 2007, and senior catcher Tara Baglai, last year's 3A co-Player of the Year.
But it doesn't end there. The Valiants graduated just two players off last year's West Valley League and state champions, albeit all-state honorees Emily Keagbine and Greta Mannen. Still…
'We'll be very strong again this year,' Illias said. 'But softball's a funny sport. Everything has to go your way. It's not just talent. The girls need to work together.'
Valley Catholic has plenty to work with starting with Picken in the circle.
'Sami works so hard at pitching,' Illias said. 'She controls the ball very well and is smart. She has a good presence on the mound.'
With Picken, Baglai forms the state's best battery. Baglai, a three-year starter, is the Valiants' No. 3 hitter.
'Tara's just strong,' Illias said. 'She hits the ball so well. She's also smart and aggressive on the bases.'
And that's just her offense. Baglai does plenty of damage behind the plate as well.
'She has a great arm,' Illias said. 'I love it when people try to steal on her. They usually don't again.'
All told, Valley Catholic returns four 1st team all-state selections with senior Emily Becker (first base) and Valerie Barry (utility) joining Baglai and Picken. Becker hits cleanup with 'a lot of power and a vacuum for a glove at first base.'
'She never ceases to amaze me with her stops,' Illias said. 'I can't get a ball past her.'
The versatile Barry will play right field or third base, and 'has a really good arm and moves well to the ball,' said Illias.
With no juniors, VC's next wave is a sophomore class that includes second baseman Maggie Hastreiter, pitcher/centerfielder Jill Suratt, outfielder Carly Verboort and shortstop Chelsea Lambert, a Beaverton High School transfer.
Lambert, a switch-hitter who will bat fifth, is a most welcome addition given the graduation of all-state shortstop Keagbine.
'She's quiet but when I first saw her throw I was pretty happy,' Illias said. 'My thought was 'I think we filled that hole that Keagbine left.''
Hastreiter is 'lightning quick' and a big threat at leadoff.
'The girl can hit doubles and beat out any bunt she lays down,' Illias said. 'She will be a great weapon for us at leadoff.'
Suratt gives Valley Catholic added speed as a left-handed slap hitter and a very capable backup to Picken with a 'good curveball and good movement on her pitches,' not to mention a solid centerfielder that 'has made some spectacular catches already,' according to Illias.
Freshmen Hana Wright (third base) and Kindra Mills (utility) complete the VC's lineup. Swing players Emily Bishop, a sophomore second baseman and outfielder, and junior exchange student Hikari Notsu (utility) add depth.
'We're still trying to find the best combination for this great group of girls,' Illias said. 'We're stronger at this point then we were last year. Things came together so quickly.'
Now it's whether this translates on the field. The Valiants 6-0 in 2008, outscoring the opposition 49-6.
'The girls got in there and wanted to work hard this year,' Illias said. 'And we're going to have to. It's never automatic. Everybody will want to beat us. You have to get all the breaks.'
Led by 1st team all-league pitcher Caralyn Chewning, Willamina will be the VC's top threat in league play, while Dayton will also contend.
'We see everybody as a threat to us and will have to play them all equally hard,' Illias said. 'We want the seniors to finish out strong and take a good memory with them.'