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Lady Lions ready for breakthrough into upper echelons of NWOC

With added talent the Lady Lions may be formidable this softball season
by: John Brewington WELCOME BACK—St. Helens’ Sue Sass (above) returns to the Lady Lions’ softball team after a year of knee rehabilitation. Her freshman sister Michelle will also add considerably to the team’s talent pool.

The St. Helens Lady Lions have been on the verge of a breakthrough in the 5A Northwest Oregon Conference for the last couple of years-this could be the season they do it.

The Lady Lions took league champion Rex Putnam to extra innings last year and upset Sandy in St. Helens. They also lost several one-run games.

They figure to be a powerhouse this season, and may be able to come out on top in many of those close games.

St. Helens returns six seniors this year and one junior, plus has some talented underclassmen coming in.

Seniors back include Miranda Hamilton, Peyton Albertson, Kayla Beeler, Jessica Sanchez, Abbie Hanson, and Michaela Ziegler. Brooke Cathers is the only returning junior, but Sue Sass also returns to the team after a year off for ACL rehabilitation. Sass started for the squad as a freshman, where she was all-league as a utility player and pitcher. Hamilton made the all-league first team last season, while Albertson, Beeler, and Cathers also garnered all-league notice. Sanchez was all-league in 2009.

Also back is sophomore Stevie Strawn, who saw considerable action last season.

Rounding out the 12 on the varsity are freshmen Mariah Mulcahy, Michelle Sass, and Alyssa Giesbers.

While the return of Sue Sass buoys the Lady Lions in the infield at shortstop, and as a relief pitcher, the team will miss sophomore Karli Edwards, a second team all-league second baseman that led the team in hitting. She suffered an ACL injury in basketball and will be off the field until next season.

Coach Jeff Edwards says he has a strong pitching staff this season, and depth at catcher.

Pitchers Albertson, Mulcahy, and Sass in an emergency give St. Helens some stability they have missed at the position. Sanchez returns to catch, but she may be spelled by Michelle Sass. Cathers will not pitch this season.

The infield is going to change at times this season, depending on pitching and needs, and some positions are still up for grabs. Hanson played at first last season, but Albertson, and Mulcahy may also see duty there. Sue Sass has the inside shot at short, while third and second bases are fairly open right now. Outfielders include Hamilton, Beeler, Cathers, Strawn, Ziegler, and possibly Alyssa Giesbers.

'We've only been on the field once (last Wednesday),' Edwards said. 'We've been focusing on conditioning. The team is coming into shape. We're behind on some defensive situation stuff, and were putting in some catching and hitting signals tonight and tomorrow. It's going to take some time, but we have an 11-game schedule to work through and we'll work through that to catch up.'

Edwards wasn't thrilled with the non-league schedule. He said it was made up by one of the other NWOC schools without much consultation. The Lady Lions have teams like Cleveland, Grant, West Salem, Clackamas, Hood River, Oregon City to name a few. The Lady Lions will also renew their rivalry with Scappoose, hosting an endowment game on April 11.

Edwards said Putnam is the favorite this year, returning two first-team pitchers and the rumor is they had a 6A catcher from Barlow transfer in. He said Sandy has their top-level pitcher back and the league home run champion. Liberty lost a couple of players but have replaced them.

'The whole league has all their top players back across the board,' he said. 'We know that if we pay attention to detail we can play with those two teams (Putnam and Sandy). On paper, they are the favorites.'

St. Helens improvement hasn't gone unnoticed.

'Now when the coaches talk about the league we're in the conversation. We haven't beat Sherwood for years, and lost a lot of one-run games to Liberty. They had our number. We had a close game with Century and they went on and won the 6A championship.'

Edwards knows the competition will be tough, but thinks this could be the year to make that breakthrough.

The Lady Lions hosted Cleveland on Tuesday, and travel to Grant March 14 and Salem March 16. They host Clackamas on Monday, March 19, and then travel to Hood River on Tuesday, March 20.