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Softball team ready to challenge 5As best

by: SANDY POST: PARKER LEE - Pioneers softball coach Kellie Wilkerson works on catching drills with Molly Nutt. Sandy reached the 5A quarterfinals last year.

An appearance in last season’s state quarterfinals gave the Sandy softball team a small dose of what postseason success tastes like. That little bite was nice, but now the Pioneers want the whole meal.

After losing to eventual state champion Pendleton last year, Sandy knows what it takes to reach that pinnacle. The Pioneers feel they are poised to get over the hump this time around.

“We have high expectations this year,” Sandy coach Kellie Wilkerson said. “Winning league and going to state is just the beginning. We have the talent, and I think we can win it all.”

A crucial trait of championship teams is their ability to win close game. More than anything last year, Sandy learned what it is like to play in close, competitive games. All seven of the Pioneers’ losses a year ago came by five runs or fewer. If they can pull out a few more of those tight contests, they will be in great shape to accomplish their goals.

Although it’s still early, Sandy is further along than it was at this point last season. It is better prepared to come out on top in big situations and big games.

“Last year was my first year, so they now know what I expect from them,” Wilkerson said. “We are able to get so much more done, which makes the output 100 percent better.”

The Pioneers lost five seniors from last season’s quarterfinal team, but a good core has returned. Pitcher Sammie Byron and catcher Rachel Rutledge made up an all-league battery and the two are back at it again. Outfielder Molly Nutt was also all-league last season as a freshman. She will lead an experienced outfield.

Byron, Rutledge and Nutt headline a veteran team with a great deal of varsity experience. That experience is great, but the fact that the players and Wilkerson don’t have a learning curve for each other is even better. Wilkerson is convinced that that will be the difference in this season’s campaign.

“They know my personality, and I know theirs,” Wilkerson said. “I know how the click. The biggest thing is that they all work well together. It is called ‘team’ for a reason, and they understand that.”

Sandy opened the season last week with a 5-4 extra-inning loss to Hood River before rebounding with a 5-2 win over The Dalles.