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Forest Grove girls work through early challenges

Youngsters getting lots of playing time as Vikings endure an extremely difficult preseason schedule

Forest Grove softball coach Trevor Tusow hasn’t exactly been dealt an ideal hand so far this spring, but a challenging early schedule and a back-to-basics approach could make the Vikings a threat come playoff time.

Tusow returns six starters from last year’s team that finished third in the now-defunct Pacific Conference and advanced to the state playoffs for the 22nd time in the last 23 seasons.

One of those returners is senior Sarah Hess, a 2014 second team all-state pick at shortstop who has missed the last six games, and the other is sophomore Maddie Haugen, who emerged as a reliable outfielder and leadoff hitter last year but will miss all of this season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

“Things have been better,” Tusow admitted with a chuckle. “We’re young and we have some growing pains going on, but we’re in the process of working them out.”

In addition to Hess, the Vikings return three other senior impact players and two juniors with varsity experience, but the rest of the playing time is going to a group of seven underclassmen that includes freshmen Kinsey Barnett, Emma Calouri and Vanessa Gonzalez, all of whom started on Monday against David Douglas at the North Clackamas Tournament.

That game — a 12-1 victory that improved Forest Grove’s record to 1-4 this season — was smack in the middle of a grueling stretch in which the Vikings played six games in five days and traveled to Medford, Grants Pass and Clackamas.

“We’ve got some young kids, but they’ve got tons of potential and talent,” Tusow said. “We’re trying to expedite the growth process. Sometimes you just need more innings and more games. That’s the best way to learn sometimes.”

One of the biggest surprises so far has been the play of Barnett, who came to the team late following basketball season and broke her finger within the first 10 minutes of her first practice. After seeing a doctor, Barnett was cleared to play with the finger taped, and she started at shortstop on Monday and belted three hits.

“She’s playing shortstop as a freshman with a broken finger,” Tusow said. “I really can’t say enough about the job she’s done for us.”

Barnett, Calouri and Gonzalez all play on the same summer league team, but Tusow said this extensive early playing time will help them adapt to high school softball.

“They play on a very competitive summer team, but there’s just something different about 6A varsity softball,” he said. “The speed of the pitches and the pace of the game, it’s just different and sometimes it takes a while to adjust to that.”

While the youngsters adjust, Tusow will lean on the services of returning all-league seniors Hess, Emily Peters, Leena Silvis and Kendra Bailey.

Hess led the team with a .402 batting average — .468 in conference play — 33 hits and 22 runs scored last year. On defense, she had a .963 fielding percentage as the team’s starting shortstop.

“We certainly expect her to be a big part of what we do this season,” Tusow said. “She’s a super talented kid both offensively and defensively. She has all the tools.”

Peters will return as Forest Grove’s most experienced pitcher, and she will play second base when she’s not in the circle. Bailey returns to her spot in center field, while Silvis will split time at catcher and third base with junior Carissa Brown. Fellow junior Siera Martinez, an honorable mention all-league selection in 2014, returns as the starter at first base.

Other team members include senior Tara Campbell, a first-year varsity player, plus sophomores Taylor Peterson, Sierra Gunderson and Chandler Young.

“We’re just trying to get our feet under us right now,” Tusow said. “As far as wins and losses, I haven’t even thought about that yet. With a young team, sometimes putting numbers in front of them becomes imposing, so we’re not worried about that.

“I know it sounds cliché, but we’re just trying to get better every day. We have to work on the basics and the fundamentals and we’ll get there. I think by the end of the season we’ll be fine.”

Complicating that issue this season will be Forest Grove’s move to the Greater Valley Conference, which features three teams that are currently in the top five of the OSAA Class 6A power rankings.

“It’s a really interesting year for us because we’re moving into a new conference and it’s a really tough conference,” Tusow said. “The added travel (to Salem and Albany) is going to be a big deal too. Maybe at the college level that won’t affect kids, but at the high school level it absolutely will.”

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