We're barely two weeks into the new season and the Lakeridge softball team has already equaled its win total from the previous three years combined.

The Pacers are still struggling against the top-tier teams, as Tuesday's 15-2 loss to top-ranked Jesuit would indicate, but they're beginning to hold their own against other squads.

The Pacers started the season with an impressive 11-0 victory over Woodburn. Granted, Woodburn is only a 5A school, but the easy victory at least showed that the season might hold some promise for the Pacers, who went winless for two years before winning two games last year.

Unfortunately, Lakeridge followed that opening victory with four consecutive losses by a combined 46-7 score. However, they held Putnam, the leading contender for the TRL crown, to a 0-0 tie through five innings. Then the Kingsmen scored three times in the sixth inning and three more in the seventh (both times after two outs had been recorded) to register a 6-0 victory.

So that gave Lakeridge some hope going into a spring break tournament this week at Hood River. The Pacers did lose to Jesuit in that tourney, but they rebounded later that day to beat Cleveland 2-0.

Suddenly, there's more optimism in the Lakeridge softball camp than has been in years. Now, there's even talk that the Pacers might have a chance to make the state playoffs, a notion that would have been almost unthinkable a year ago.

'We're excited about (doing) something in league,' third-year coach Gene Chamberlain said after the win over Cleveland. 'Our goal is to be .500 in league … and maybe with a little luck, we might even make the playoffs.'

Chamberlain wasn't sure what to expect when only 14 girls turned out for softball in late February. With such a small turnout, the coach had no choice but to eliminate the school's junior varsity and freshman teams.

Even the varsity squad is a little thin on experience, or at least older, experienced players. The team is made up of two seniors, one junior, seven sophomores and four freshmen. So the team's future could be bright as long no one moves or gets seriously injured.

Chamberlain will depend heavily on his two pitchers - senior Jessi D'Elso and sophomore Natalie Rose - to keep the Pacers close in most of their games. Then, it's up to a solid group of hitters to provide enough support to win some of those games. Lately, Rose, sophomore first baseman McKenzie Griffin, sophomore catcher Taylor Ramsey and senior center fielder Jenny Love have carried the hottest bats.

Chamberlain also will be looking for production from junior second baseman Taylor Marshall, sophomore shortstop Alexis Graybeal, freshman third baseman Alex Scott, sophomore left fielder Zoe Teton and freshman right fielder Hanna Steger.

'We've got the hitters,' Chamberlain said. 'But I'm really pleased with our defense.'

In previous years, a shaky defense often put Lakeridge in too big of a hole to dig out of. Now, with the Pacers improved in all three key areas - pitching, hitting and defense - 'at least we'll be able to keep everybody honest,' the coach said.

Chamberlain said it was hard losing so many games during the previous two years because he had never been part of a losing team before coming to Lakeridge. But the mood has changed now that everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

'This year has been a lot more fun,' the coach said. 'And I've got a super group of parents … They're right there whenever you need help.'

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