by: JEFF GOODMAN / FILE - Gina Bond hit a team-high eight home runs and scored 45 runs to power the Canby softball team's offense. She was named the Three Rivers League player of the year.Gina Bond didn’t consider herself a leadoff hitter. She was used to batting third.

But Canby softball coach Mike Higgins wanted to discourage opposing pitchers from intentionally walking the star senior, so he asked her to try it out.

“I told her, ‘I want teams to pitch to you,’” Higgins said. “They’re not going to walk the leadoff kid. So it was a good strategic move. She was a little skeptical at first. But all things considered, that was the best strategy.”

A couple months later, it appears the tactic worked out just fine.

Bond blasted eight home runs, scored 45 times and helped the Cougars lead the conference in offensive production with 209 total runs — an average of 7.74 per game.

And Bond, who will continue her softball career at Oregon State, was named the Three Rivers League player of the year to cap a phenomenal campaign at shortstop.

“To win that award is a huge honor,” Higgins said. “We knew she was a special player, and she had a special season, but to do the work and put up the numbers day in and day out — you still have to do that. Things can go wrong. People are super-careful with her at the plate, she gets intentionally walked. Our strategy from the outset was to lead off with her and force teams to pitch to her, and she embraced that role.”

Thanks in part to Bond, the Cougars finished their first year under Higgins with a 17-10 record and reached the state playoffs for the 21st-consecutive season.

They went 8-7 in conference play to finish in fourth place behind West Linn, Oregon City and Clackamas, and they combined to hit 24 home runs. They didn’t have a single shutout loss.

After crushing Gresham-Centennial 10-0 in a Class 6A play-in game, Canby fell 6-2 to Aloha in the first round of the state tournament.

“I think we’d like to have picked up that playoff win against Aloha, but I was proud of the girls,” Higgins said. “Seventeen wins was a strong season.”

Bond was one of three Cougars players honored on the all-conference first team, joining senior catcher Colleen Crutchfield and sophomore designated hitter Sarah Bizon.

Crutchfield, who earned second-team recognition last year, made an even more pronounced impact this season with her skills as a hitter and catcher. The future University of Mary player finished with five home runs, including one in the Cougars’ 14-8 win over Lake Oswego on April 26 and another in their 7-6 triumph against Lakeridge on May 7.

Crutchfield was stellar behind the plate as well, giving up just one stolen base the entire season. Only three were attempted.

“Most coaches saw enough of her throw to second in warm-ups to stop the running game,” Higgins said. “Nobody was running on her. Her arm is so good. She had an outstanding season and was a real leader for us.”

Bizon, meanwhile, showcased her offensive prowess as part of a breakout campaign that featured seven home runs. Her skills at the plate were particularly evident when she tallied four home runs, including a walk-off winner, in back-to-back league games.

She also hit a two-run shot in Canby’s win over Troutdale-Reynolds in preseason play and went yard in the team’s rout of Lakeridge on April 25.

“I saw a lot of pop in her bat and wanted to make sure her bat was in the lineup,” Higgins said. “She was behind a couple other kids defensively, but she was our designated hitter and she blew away the expectations I had.

“What impressed me the most was her maturing at the plate in terms of doing what was necessary. We’d get runners on second and third and need a run, and she’d get a ball into right field instead of just trying to drive it out. She took that step. She’s got a bright future.”

Three Canby players garnered second-team recognition.

Junior pitcher/infielder Aunika Turner battled through tendonitis to receive the second all-league nod of her career after taking a hiatus from the program last year. She was a second-team honoree as a freshman.

“She’s not used to throwing that many innings, but she carried the load for us,” Higgins said. “And she’s a real warrior out there — she’ll never tell you her arm hurts.”

Senior first baseman Hana Thomas and sophomore center fielder Haley Conroy earned spots on the second team as well. Thomas committed just one error the entire season, and Conroy’s speed bolstered the Cougars’ defense.

Junior second baseman Alyssa Branscum received honorable mention, often helping Bond advance on the bases as the team’s No. 2 hitter.

“Alyssa was like the offensive lineman for Gina,” Higgins said. “Her bunting ability is phenomenal, and that moved Gina in to scoring position.”

Canby players also voted on team awards. Bond was named most valuable, Crutchfield was deemed the defensive player of the year, sophomore pitcher Elizabeth Castro was honored as most improved and senior third baseman Hailey Davis was chosen as the best teammate.

“Hailey was the glue of our defense,” Higgins said.

Davis and Thomas plan to continue their softball careers at Clackamas Community College.

Canby won season series against Clackamas, Lakeridge and Lake Oswego and finished at No. 21 in the 6A rankings.

West Linn was the only TRL team to advance past the first round of the playoffs. North Medford and South Salem reached the state finals.



Record: 17-10 (8-7 in the Three Rivers League)

Playoffs: Lost to Aloha in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs, 6-2

Key facts: Reached the state playoffs for the 21st season in a row; hit 24 home runs in 27 games; scored at least one run in every game; lost four games by one run

Best win: 3-0 over No. 3 Tualatin in preseason play at home April 11

Toughest loss: 8-7 to West Linn on the road May 9

All-league first team: senior shortstop Gina Bond (player of the year), senior catcher Colleen Crutchfield, sophomore designated hitter Sarah Bizon

All-league second team: junior pitcher/infielder Aunika Turner, senior first baseman Hana Thomas, sophomore center fielder Haley Conroy

Honorable mention: junior second baseman Alyssa Branscum

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