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Gaston girls chase consecutive league titles

Last year's team ran away with the league title but lost in the first round of the playoffs

First-year Gaston softball coach Wally Lira is already excited about the possibilities for the Lady Hounds this season.

'I see a lot of potential,' Lira says. 'They don't see their potential yet, but I look at us going deep into the playoffs.'

When a new coach takes over a program, there is always an adjustment period for both the players and the coach.

'I don't know their last names yet,' Lira says, laughing. 'I haven't gotten that far yet.'

While Lira, a 1981 Gaston High School grad, is still trying to learn his players' last names, he says that the girls have been receptive to the way he wants to run the program.

'We've meshed pretty well,' Lira says. 'They realize that I'm very serious when I coach softball. I don't mind losing to a good team, but I have high expectations.

'They know that when I ask them something, they just do it. They're coachable. That's the biggest thing.'

Expectations were high coming off last season, when Gaston went 14-6 and won a Northwest League championship, but the Lady Greyhounds opened the 2012 season with an incredible piece of bad luck.

While Gaston beat Sheridan 11-3 in a non-league game last Monday, the Hounds lost junior pitcher Brielle Matson for the season when the highly touted transfer from Yamhill-Carlton broke her ankle covering home plate in the second inning.

'That was devastating,' Lira says.

The Lady Hounds did find a silver lining, though, when freshman pitcher Hailey Davis proved to be up to the challenge of pitching at the varsity level.

The Greyhounds will need Davis to continue to shut down opponents as the season progresses. Lira points to Cassie Van Dyke and Whitney Cookston as two hitters who show promise, but he admits that Gaston could struggle at the plate unless the players are able to adjust to Northwest League pitching.

'Right now our bats are a little weak,' Lira says. 'Some of the pitchers we're facing in our league are a little slow. My girls aren't used to that. I told them they really have to sit back and watch.

'Right now, between a one and a 10, I'd probably say we're a four or five hitting-wise. My top four girls have hit fairly well, but everyone else has struggled.'

The Lady Hounds could make up for a lack of pop in the lineup with a strong small ball game.

'Our bunting is phenomenal,' Lira says. 'We've got our bunting down really well.'

Lira has been told by his players that the Hounds were surprised by the level of competition outside of the Northwest League last season. After going 14-1 in league play, Gaston was bounced from the Class 2A state playoffs in the first round.

Knowing that, Lira says that he will use the season as a prelude to the playoffs and build the Hounds up to the point where they can handle any team they face.

'They were quite shocked by how good the teams were in the playoffs last year,' Lira says. 'My goal is to get them to the playoffs and for us to be able to advance from there.

'Each game is to get us ready for the playoffs because I have high expectations with these girls.'