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Youthful Hounds enter season with high hopes

Gaston seeks repeat state playoff bid under new head coach

The Greyhounds are young, but they are dreaming big.

“Our team goal is to make it to the state playoffs,” Gaston softball head coach Kristin Larkins said. “And to see how well they’ve already come together as a team and how much they’ve already improved, I see us going pretty far in the state playoffs, hopefully. NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Kristin Larkins, shown at right in this 2015 file photo, moves up from assistant to head coach for Gaston softball this spring. She will try to steer a young roster back into the state playoffs.

“We only have a couple question marks position-wise, but we look pretty strong on defense. And then on offense we’re scoring high numbers, too, so we’re doing really well hitting and scoring lots of runs.”

While Larkins is new in the head coaching spot, she is not new to the program or the area. She assisted former head coach Erin Guidarelli at Gaston last season and previously starred on the softball diamonds at Forest Grove High School and Pacific University.

Larkins pilots a group with an interesting blend of youth and experience. The team has just one senior compared with 12 freshmen and sophomores. But the squad’s five sophomores are already varsity veterans who helped Gaston go 19-7 overall and 9-3 in the Northwest League last season, good for second place behind Knappa. The Hounds also narrowly missed advancing out of the Class 2A/1A first round with a close 6-4 loss at Gold Beach.

So Larkins has plenty of reason to be optimistic about her team’s chances, even with Gaston’s relative youth.

The Greyhounds already have been getting great play during a 2-2 start from two of the sophomores, Charity Hall and Julia Clark. The now-graduated Haylie Davis was the team’s ace in the pitching circle last spring, but Hall also worked a number of innings. She went 2-1 last week for the Hounds and batted .273.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Charity Hall pitched a number of innings for Gaston last year and is already stepping into a leadership role this season as a sophomore.

The squad’s leadoff batter and shortstop, Clark hit at a .500 clip last week. That included notching three singles and a triple in a 16-6 win at Toledo on Saturday during the second half of a doubleheader. Her on-base percentage was 0.688 (11-for-16) through four games.

“She’s just on fire right now, having fun, leading,” Larkins said.

Freshman Anna Stolley will see time at pitcher for the Hounds and Larkins said she also has excelled in right field, so the coach will see how her two pitchers go when it comes to which one throws. She may have them split time, with Stolley coming in to close.

“With the experience Charity has, I probably am going to have her starting more,” Larkins said. “And just to see how awesome Anna’s been doing in the outfield, I feel like that’s going to be stronger for our team at this point.”NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Julia Clark tries to apply a tag at second base during a 2015 Gaston softball game. Clark opened her sophomore season up hitting at a .500 clip.

Junior Abbey Zawodny is one of the team’s top returners in both age and experience. She will help anchor the infield at first base. Larkins was also pleased that another junior, Sammy Moore, will play this year after some time off. She has been starting at third base. Hannah Ungar is the lone senior on the roster.

Among the other sophomores, Daisy Clark, who is not related to Julia Clark, is back to roam center field, and Taylor Bassel will form the other half of the battery at catcher. Larkins has been trying Abby Beck at the two open positions, second base and left field.

As for the freshmen, Morgan Johnson has been seeing playing time already. The group includes Lily Kellar, Sequoia Nelson, Brooke Jordan, Hannah Ranes and Sydnee Hixon.

With all of the rain so far this season, the Hounds have not spent much time outside and their home field is not yet playable, so they haven’t hosted a home game. They are scheduled to play a doubleheader at Class 4A Tillamook on Saturday.