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Tough pitching highlights local softball scene

MHC SOFTBALL PREVIEW - Reynolds and Barlow are front-runners for a league title
by: David Ball, David Douglas pitcher Amy Greenough helped the Scots reach the state quarterfinals in 2007.

The Mount Hood Conference is ready for a breakout softball season this spring, as a large group of returning players gives the league several teams that could make a long run in the state playoffs. Last season, the league sent two teams into the state quartefinals with Central Catholic reaching the championship game before falling in extra innings.

'Every team has something different to offer, and that will make for some interesting matchups,' David Douglas coach Staci Heath said.

Pitching promises to be a highlight with all three all-league hurlers returning from last year. They include Kelli Eubanks at Reynolds, Kaitlin Inglesby at Central Catholic and Amy Greenough at David Douglas.

Following are previews of the five local teams:

• After finishing in the middle of the pack last year, Barlow should be back in title contention for 2008. The Bruins are off to an impressive 10-0 start in the preseason, scoring 10 or more runs in eight of their wins.

'I hope that gives us some confidence, but once league starts it's a whole new season,' Bruins' coach Scott Vang said.

Senior Jaydee Baxter and freshman Jessica Butkins supply home-run threats, while senior Lauren Wilkerson and junior Andrea Bailey bring speed to the base paths. Junior Kayla Anderson returns to the pitcher's circle, while Amanda Hunt can give her a breather at times.

• Reynolds is ready for another playoff run with a handful of returners back from last year's 10-6 team. Leading the charge is standout pitcher Kelli Eubanks, who has signed to play at Colorado State next year. Eubanks is also one of the team's top hitters, connecting at better than .600 in the preseason.

'She's a double threat for us, and we can use her in many different ways,' Raiders' coach Erin Seawright said. 'Kelli is a real playmaker.'

Sophomore catcher Gabby Stover returns behind the plate, sparking the defense with her aggressive play. Senior Jackie Murphy returns at first base, while junior Kelsey Kai moves from the outfield to second base this year. Freshmen Amanda Amador and Alyssa Bozikovich hold down the left side of the infield. Senior Kristina Strong anchors the outfield.

• David Douglas returns senior Amy Greenough in the pitcher's circle, but graduated the rest of the starting infield from last year's squad that reached the state quarterfinals. David Douglas coach Staci Heath has used the preseason to move her lineup around, bringing in a couple of returning outfielders to play in the dirt this spring. The Scots have also used three freshmen in their starting rotation early this season.

'We're having to move some people around and trying some new things,' Heath said. 'But our kids have that winning mentality, and they don't accept anything less.'

Senior Brandy Hughes steps in at catcher after playing right field last year, while Becca Doyle moves to second base and being in left field in 2007.

Greenough should limit the amount of trouble the Scots will face after tossing seven shutouts in league play last year and leading the league's stingiest defense.

• Gresham needed to win a league tiebreaker to reach the playoffs last season, but hope to build a bigger cushion this year behind a squad that graduated only two players.

The infield is loaded with returning players with sophomore Becca Moen and junior Charlie Nielan on the corners, while juniors Leah Justice and Stephanie Guenther patrol the middle. Senior Ashley Billingsley returns behind the plate.

'Defense is one of our strong points,' Gophers' coach Kevin Hart said. 'They've been playing together for a couple years now, and when you get into those tight situations you know they aren't going to let you down.'

Gresham also features a tough pitching duo with seniors Ashley Good and Heather Stanfill each posing different problems for opposing batters.

• Centennial returns all but one senior in its quest to improve on last year's three-win campaign and jump into the playoff chase.

'Everybody is a year older, and we've been able to add some new kids in key positions,' Eagles' coach Steve Baker said.

Senior twins Kena (catcher) and Kami Elliott (first base) anchor the infield, while juniors Kaitlin West and Allison Baker will share the pitching duties.

Junior Krista Arnold returns to third base after playing at shortstop last season, while Baker will take over at second when she isn't pitching. Freshman Keli VanCleeve will patrol the middle of the field at shortstop. Senior Dusty Sanstrum anchors the outfield.