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Timberwolves hope to battle for a top spot

Softball: Tualatin looks to make the playoffs out of the powerful Pacific Conference
by: JAIME VALDEZ, A TOP TIMBERWOLF — Senior Jordan Skinner, who has signed to play college softball at the University of Wisconsin, returns at shortstop for Tualatin.

TUALATIN - There's a ton of talent coming back for a senior-laden Tualatin softball team with lofty expectations for the 2008 season.

Trouble is, the Timberwolves, will have quite the challenge even advancing to the state playoffs out of a Pacific Conference that is shaping up to best one of the state's top leagues.

'The goal is always to win league,' Tualatin coach Dan Roisom said. 'Realistically, we're probably picked to finish fourth or fifth. McMinnville has arguably the best pitcher in the state (returning first-team all-state Anna Bertrand). Forest Grove won the state title last year. And Tigard and Canby are loaded. We have to figure out a way to reach the state playoffs.'

Four of the league's six teams advance. Forest Grove proved it doesn't matter the league finish after an improbable run as the Pacific No. 3 seed to the state title behind now-junior pitcher Emma Gronseth.

Tualatin has the makings to do likewise. It's just a matter of putting it all together.

'I think once we get going, we'll be tough competition,' said senior shortstop Jordan Skinner. 'We have a lot of potential. We just have to keep working hard.'

Skinner, who earned second team all-state honors in 2007, is a four-year starter for the Wolves and one of seven seniors in Tualatin's starting lineup. The team's leadoff hitter, Skinner puts pressure on the defense as a slap-hitting lefty that can get down the line quickly.

Starting center fielder Gina Rawls, also a senior, provides added speed to the Wolves' lineup.

'We'll be aggressive on the basepaths,' Roisom said. 'Skinner is unbelievable when she gets it going. Gina and Skinner will be there when it counts.'

And senior first baseman Janelle Cromie will be there to drive them in. Cromie, a first team all-state selection last year, provides the Wolves with plenty of pop as the team's cleanup hitter.

Cromie, senior second baseman Danielle Roisom, a second team all-league selection in 2007, and sophomore left fielder Meaghan Cichoke each got a late start to softball season as members of the girls basketball team that advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.

The Wolves also return senior right fielder Amelia Bywater, senior catcher Emily Tietje, senior pitcher Suzanna Espinoza, and junior third baseman Kirstie Lerum, who recently rejoined the team after a three-week stint in the hospital. Tualatin started the season 3-4 before taking Spring Break off.

'We're going to be a force to deal with once we get everybody going,' coach Roisom said. 'We'll be ready when the bell rings.'

Espinoza, who relies on movement pitches, takes over for graduated Bethany Dempster, a 2007 first team all-league pitcher, in the circle for the Wolves. Sophomore Kathryn Sampson also pitches and both have the luxury of a strong defense behind them.

'We have to play defense, which we will,' Skinner said. 'We have basically our whole defense back.'

Replacing the big bat of Natalie Taylor, the Pacific Player of the Year last season, won't be easy. The Wolves look to compensate by keeping the pressure on the opposition's defense.

'We have a lot of speed and four or five lefties,' Skinner said. 'We'll rely a lot on our speed. Do the little things right. Get bunts down. We just need to get people on.'

And that's going to be a challenge against the likes of Bertrand and Gronseth, but one Tualatin looks forward to.

'If we keep working hard, I think we can be near the top of the league,' Cichoke said. 'We're really aggressive and like to work hard.'

Other players on the Tualatin varsity roster include juniors Madison Burke, Camille Kennedy and Amanda Richmond, sophomore Ally McPherson, and freshman Jenny Johnson.