by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego shortstop Courtney Fitzgerald follows a grounder into her mitt during last Thursday’s 2-0 victory over West Linn. That win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Lakers, who returned a majority of last year’s league championship team.

This was supposed to be a banner year for the Lake Oswego softball team. It still could be, but so far that hasn't been the case.

Optimism was understandably high after the Lakers returned virtually everyone from last year's league championship team. But that optimism hasn't translated into many victories so far in this young season.

In fact, the Lakers got off to a 1-3 start, including a 9-3 loss to league rival Oregon City.

'We're not playing very good right now,' coach Don Hunt said in disbelief.

If someone had told the coach that his team would be 4-0 at this point, he would have quickly agreed. But it seems the Lakers have had trouble with every facet of the game during their early losing streak.

'We're not getting any offense, or defense, or anything,' Hunt quipped.

The Lakers' uncharacteristic play started with a 13-4 loss to Southridge, which is an excellent team. But Lake Oswego dug itself a hole it couldn't climb out of by yielding 12 unearned runs. Then came a 7-0 loss to Gresham when nothing seemed to go right for the Lakers.

Hunt's crew seemed to have turned things around a bit when they jumped to a 3-0 lead midway through the Oregon City game. Then everything came unraveled and it happened in the most unusual fashion.

Senior pitcher Lauren DeWeese, who was a first-team all-leaguer last year, was called for 16 illegal pitches, including four that forced in runs for the Pioneers.

The umpire said DeWeese was 'hopping' off the pitcher rubber before delivering each pitch and then was re-planting that foot in front of the rubber. It's a move that DeWeese has employed throughout her high school career but has rarely been called for it.

'If you're a good pitcher, you do that,' Hunt said. 'But (the umpire) was going to make a point.'

The Lakers managed to stop their losing streak at three games when they beat West Linn 2-0 last Thursday. But Lake Oswego missed several chances to score more runs and Hunt believes the final score could have been something closer to 10-0. The good news, though, is that DeWeese rebounded from her nightmare at Oregon City by pitching a three-hitter against the Lions.

The West Linn game was a step in the right direction, but no one figured the Lakers would have to wait that long to win their first game of the season.

'I think we thought everyone would be afraid of us and no one is afraid of us,' Hunt said.

'The girls don't want to see their season go down the tubes,' the coach continued. 'I think we'll be all right, but we're certainly off to a rocky start.'

Hunt said he's not ready to start panicking. After all, 16 league games still remain on the schedule and the Lakers only trail first-place Putnam by one game.

Maybe it's good that the Lakers are spending spring break in Arizona, where they were scheduled to play two games each on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday against some excellent teams.

'I think it will be good for us to see some good competition,' Hunt said.

On paper, the Lakers stack up nicely with just about anyone. They have five first-team all-leaguers returning from last year's squad.

That includes senior third baseman Carlen Don, who was the TRL player of the year last season while hitting close to .500. So far this year, she's hitting the ball even better.

Another returning first-teamer is junior catcher Maggie Sholian, who is already being heavily recruited by colleges. Not only does she have a good arm but she's also batting clean-up this year.

Then there's senior shortstop Courtney Fitzgerald, who is the team's sparkplug and emotional leader. She started the season slowly but no one expects that slump to last very long.

'We go as she goes, and she's been struggling lately,' Hunt said. 'But she's too good of an athlete not to be at the top of her game.'

Another returning all-leaguer is senior Kelsey Wood, who will split her time between second base and first base, and neither one of those is probably her best position.

'She's an outstanding infielder but she's probably our best outfielder,' Hunt said.

Once again, Wood is off to a fast start at the plate, prompting Hunt to say, 'I think she's going to have a big year.'

DeWeese rounds out Lake Oswego's all-league contingent. But she seemed rusty at times during preseason workouts. Then she missed the team's first game and portions of the next two. However, her effort against West Linn showed how dominating she can be.

'They couldn't get a bat on the ball,' Hunt said of the West Linn hitters.

Rounding out Lake Oswego's infield will be Taylor Hemzacek, who received honorable mention last year as a sophomore. This year, she's expected to split her time between first base and pitcher. She's also batting fifth in the lineup and has been crushing the ball lately.

The outfield will feature senior Megan Amadon in left, sophomore Julia Klitzke in center and senior Paige Pugh in right. All of them have all-star capabilities. The team also has three excellent subs in Alli Farmer, Chloe Longfellow and Kate Childs.

With so much talent, it's hard to believe that Lake Oswego has lost any games this season, and to drop three out of four is quite amazing.

'It's about as frustrating of an experience as I've had as a coach,' Hunt said.

'The bottom line is we're only four games into the season. It's not time to throw in the towel.'

In fact, the coach believes his team still has a good chance to win another league title, even with Putnam looking like one of the five best teams in the state.

'This team is over the top talented,' Hunt said. 'But we're certainly going to have to bring our A game to beat Putnam.'

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