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St. Helens softball looks to score, allow rest for Mulcahy

No weak spot in batting order for Lions, who have added speed and have a solid backup for all-star pitcher Mariah Mulcahy

JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - St. Helens senior Mariah Mulcahy takes part in bunting practice. Mulcahy is not only one of the team's power hitters, but is also one of the top pitchers in the state.It's no secret that the NW Oregon Conference is brutal when it comes to softball. The conference has had a representative in the last two state title games, and got more than half of the eight teams to the first round of the playoffs.

Now the daunting task of wading through the NWOC season falls directly on the shoulders of Miranda Little, who took over the program on an interim basis midway through last season and was able to guide the Lions to the Class 5A semifinals before falling to Putnam.

Little takes over as the head coach this season, and has gotten to work putting a personal touch on things. For example, there's a practice plan written out down to the individual drills for each day and each day is graced with an inspirational quote.

The biggest — or littlest — change is the Lions' attack on offense.

“We don't have a weak spot in our batting lineup,” Little said. “I was playing with names and positions and lineup orders today, and I have about four girls who can all hit in the four spot. That makes it really fun, kind of really difficult.”

Ashley Geisbers, easy to mistake as a crimson-tinted blur up the first-base line in the lead off position, puts pressure on defenses with her speed. Then Little gets to choose from a number of dangerous options: Michelle Sass can hit the ball out of the park, and so can Mariah Mulcahy. Taylor Leal homered regularly last season.

JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Miranda Little takes over the St. Helens softball program after several years as an assistant.Talk about options.

Little's optimism is borne out of a deep familiarity with the program, as she assisted for several years before stepping into the role of skipper.

“I feel like if I were to go into another program that had a really strong group of girls, I wouldn't feel as comfortable and as excited as I do right now, because I know them and I know what they're capable of doing,” she said.

At the top of the list of all-stars sits Mulcahy, who dominated the conference from the mound and was named the NWOC Pitcher of the Year for the third time after her junior season. Mulcahy came close to a perfect game on several occasions and at one point pitched four games in a single week — each of them critical contests.

Part of Little's emphasis on hitting is to give Mulcahy a rest and save her arm for the biggest games. The Lions have a solid backup they hope to develop in an understudy role during Mulcahy's final year, allowing the ace to enter the final stretch of the season at peak strength.

And as if Mulcahy wasn't dangerous enough, she's added a little extra something to her arsenal during the offseason.

“She was working on an additional pitch. Her rise-ball was always her killer, and she's been working on her spins going other directions, and that's what she's been working on in the offseason. Her curve's looking pretty... pretty,” Little said. “She was killing people last year with rise-ball, fastball, change ups, and throwing a curve ball in there, they're just going to think it's one of her fastballs they were expecting from last year, and it's just going to tail out on them.”

Little's long-term focus isn't with just next season in mind. Though she hopes to eventually coach at the college level, Little said she'd prefer to continue coaching high school softball while she's still young — and besides, there's a connection to this St. Helens team.

“I'm here for teaching and coaching,” Little said. “If I ended up having to leave for some reason, maybe my teaching job, I would hope to still be able to coach this program.”

Added Little, “I will stay around as long as they'll have me.”