The junior has helped the Cougars both in the circle and at the plate in preseason play.

by: JEFF GOODMAN / PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Aunika Turner unleashes a pitch March 19 during the Canby softball team's nonconference game at Wilsonville. Turner threw a complete game and also went 4-of-5 at the plate to lead the Cougars in a 6-1 victory.WILSONVILLE — Aunika Turner looked focused as she stood in the circle with the bases loaded, two outs away from victory.

She was on edge but at ease.

“I don’t think,” the junior said of her approach in tense situations. “When I’m pitching, I think about my pitches and I pitch them. So I was feeling nervous but confident. I just found my confidence and pushed through it.”

Sure enough, the Canby softball team turned a double play to cap its 6-1 victory over Wilsonville on the road March 19.

For Turner, who had just thrown a complete game for the second day in a row, it was the latest accomplishment of an unusual comeback journey.

Turner was a key player for the Cougars as a freshman in 2012, earning second-team all-conference honors as an infielder and helping the team qualify for the state playoffs in its first year under coach Laurie Smallwood.

She then stepped away from the program for its 2013 campaign due to what she said was growing friction between her and Smallwood, who left Canby after last season to take a position with Sandy’s fire department.

“I had a falling-out with the coach and didn’t agree with certain decisions,” Turner said.

Turner didn’t spurn softball altogether. She continued honing her pitching skills and kept up her physical fitness, hoping her high school softball career would resume amid more favorable circumstances.

Her hiatus didn’t make attending Cougars games easy, although she made her way to the diamond several times anyway.

“It was disappointing,” she said. “But I maintained my confidence to be able to come out and throw this year.”

Turner’s prospects brightened with the offseason hiring of Mike Higgins. She and two Canby teammates — senior catcher Colleen Crutchfield and junior infielder Alyssa Branscum — had already played under the former West Linn assistant coach as members of the Northwest Crimson Tide, a club softball team based in West Linn.

In the club ranks, Higgins had already seen firsthand what Turner could do in the circle. And he liked what he saw.

Higgins said entering his first season at the helm of the Cougars that Turner has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in the Three Rivers League this year.

Turner has delivered in myriad ways.

She tossed a complete game to carry Canby in a 10-4 road win over St. Helens in its season opener March 18, also going 4-of-5 at the plate with three RBI.

She then held Wilsonville to one run in another complete-game performance the following day.

“My arm’s a little sore,” she said. “But I feel good. I feel solid.”

Thanks to the contributions of Turner, the Cougars won four of their first five games while outscoring their opponents 49-12. They were ranked No. 12 in Class 6A entering a scheduled April 1 game on the road against Sherwood, which will join the TRL next year.

Turner is also a significant member of Canby’s equestrian team, a perennial North Valley District powerhouse whose third meet of the season is slated for April 4-6 in Salem.

At the first district competition, which wrapped up Feb. 2 in McMinnville, she was second in individual flags and fourth in pole bending while helping the Cougars earn top-seven finishes in the team penning and two-man birangle events.

Turner was also part of a 1-2-3-4 sweep in individual flags at Canby’s second district meet, which was held Feb. 27 through March 1 in McMinnville. She posted a top-10 finish in the event at last year’s OHSET state championships with a mark of 8.95 seconds, less than half a second off the winning time.

As the high school’s equestrians prepare to contend for a 10th-consecutive district title, Turner and her softball teammates are working to extend another impressive streak. The Cougars are in the hunt for a 21st-consecutive appearance in the state playoffs.

Turner said she believes they have enough talent and willpower to compete for the program’s first OSAA title since 2001.

“We have good players in every position, and we’re all confident,” she said. “Overall, we are state material.”

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