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They hit the ball and hold their own with some top teams in preseason

by: DAVID BALL - Putnam freshman Sarah Abramson works her windup in the Kingsmens 10-5 win over Beaverton.Rex Putnam softball coach Tiffany Strnad expects her Kingsmen to be much improved over last year and, based on early results, that’s going to be the case.

Playing one of the toughest schedules of any Class 5A team, the Kingsmen have gone 4-2 in their first six preseason games.

They’ve got wins over Class 6A West Linn (12-1), Class 6A Beaverton (10-5), Class 6A Clackamas (7-2) and 2013 Class 5A finalist Hermiston (14-1). Their losses have come at the hands of 2013 Class 6A quarterfinalist Central Catholic (10-1) and Pendleton (10-7), which entered play this week ranked the third-best team in Class 5A.

“Last year was a growing year,” said Strnad. “We were inexperienced, and we really struggled. This year we are off to a good start and we’ve shown a lot of positives. We’re making some plays, we’re talking more. We’re more intense. The girls want to win and they believe they can win. We’re hitting and we’re scoring some runs.”

In their first six games this spring, the Kingsmen scored 51 runs, to 29 runs by their opponents.

A year ago they scored only 88 runs in their entire 24-game season, as they struggled to an overall record of 7-17, going 5-9 and placing fifth in the eight-team Northwest Oregon Conference.

“Except for the Central Catholic game, we’ve hit the ball really well,” Strnad said, noting that her Kingsmen had double figure hits in their games with West Linn, Beaverton, Clackamas and Hermiston.

“Their pitcher was hitting the corners, and we didn’t adjust,” Strnad said of the Central Catholic game.

Putnam batters reached Madisen Vrabel, a first-team all-league pitcher in the Three Rivers League, for 10 hits in their 7-2 win over the Cavaliers.

Strnad said that her Kingsmen have a lot more depth than last year, with competition for starting roles and playing time at several positions.

Putnam’s top returnees from last year are seniors Taylor Balfour and Ashley Culp, junior Kate Betschart and sophomore Brooke Snyder.

A four-year starter, Balfour returns to anchor the infield at shortstop, where she was a first-team all-conference selection a year ago.

Culp returns behind the plate, where she’s seeing her third season of starting action. She was an honorable mention all-conference pick last spring.

Culp went 3-for-4 at the plate, with a three-run home run in the Beaverton game, and she had three RBI in the rout of Hermiston.

Betschart is a third-year starter in centerfield, where she earned first-team all-conference honors a year ago.

Betschart went 3-for-4 at the plate in the games with Hermiston and Clackamas.

Snyder returns at pitcher, where she’s getting pushed by freshman Sarah Abramson. Snyder received honorable mention for her efforts last season.

“They’re both solid,” Strnad said of Snyder and Abramson. “They’ve got similar speeds, but different strengths....”

Snyder this spring has been pitching, and splitting time at first base with junior letterman Hayley Dolfay. Abramson will also see some time at first base, when she’s not pitching.

Snyder went 4-for-4 with her bat in the Beaverton game.

Sophomore Elysia Webb, who started at second base late last year, is battling freshman Justice Duval for the starting nod at second this year.

Veterans senior Lauren Roberts and junior Maggie Waymire will both see action at third base this year. Waymire started at third last year. Roberts did not play last year, after seeing a considerable amount of playing time in the outfield as a sophomore.

Waymire (3-for-4) pounded out three hits in the Hermiston game.

Sophomore Sydney Nichols returns to start in left field. It’ll be either Roberts or sophomore McKenzie Cruz in right field. Cruz was a part-time starter in the outfield as a freshman.

“Sandy’s the favorite [to repeat as Northwest Oregon Conference champion],” said Strnad. “They won state last year, and they’ve got pretty-much everyone back.”

Strnad said of her Kingsmen’s prospects, “We’re still pretty young, but I think we can challenge some teams and I think we’ll surprise some people, especially after what we did last year. People aren’t going to be expecting a lot from us.... I expect us to continue to improve as the season goes along and we gain in confidence. By the end of the season, we could be pretty good.”

The Kingsmen will find out how they stack up with the best in Class 5A in a hurry. They open NWOC play on Tuesday, April 15, playing Sandy on the road.

In upcoming preseason games, Putnam hosts McNary Thursday, Forest Grove on Friday and Lakeridge next Monday.

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