Young lineup hardly misses a beat in its advance toward playoffs

Centennial softball coach Steve Baker didn't expect his team to challenge for the Mount Hood Conference title, not with just two seniors and somewhat of a makeshift lineup.

But the Eagles played halfway through their league schedule before losing 3-1 to sixth-place St. Mary's on Wednesday. And Centennial entered Thursday's game with Barlow atop the standings at 7-1.

'I'm more than pleased with how well we're doing,' Baker says. 'I felt we might fight for a playoff spot when the season started, so we're doing much better than that so far.

'But that probably got us to the spot where we thought we can win just by showing up against some of the teams in our conference. And we really can't do that.'

Centennial, which played in the state title game in 1995, rotates senior Kim Turin and junior Kori Kajitsu on the mound. Few of the Eagles complain about playing time because there are only 12 players, and as many as three have been injured, leaving Centennial at times with just nine.

The Eagles started the season with a trip to Florida ÑÊwith only six of the varsity players. The others who went with the team, who could afford the trip, included junior varsity players and one girl who had been cut from the program.

But Baker says the trip helped the Eagles develop.

'We got back and had to play a game the next day, and I thought we might not do so well incorporating the girls that didn't go on the trip,' Baker says.

But, he says, 'It's like we never missed a beat.'

MORE SOFTBALL: Benson also has just two seniors on its roster and is ahead of schedule as it challenges for the Portland Interscholastic League title, says coach Katie Meyer.

After graduating a strong senior class, the Techsters are loaded with sophomores. They had a preseason schedule featuring Class 3A teams and weaker 4A schools. But timely hitting and strong pitching from senior Jennifer Kenison have the Techsters in position to win the league title. It would be Benson's first in the sport.

Kenison was the team's No. 2 pitcher the last three seasons behind Emily Marquez, who graduated.

'She's been real steady, unflappable on the mound,' Meyer says. 'She just makes other teams hit the ball, and we play good defense behind her.'

Tech's other senior is Suzanne Hanson, who also starred for the volleyball and basketball teams.

Benson lost its first PIL game this week, 3-2 to Grant. The Techsters play Wilson, which is in third place, on Thursday. Benson closes the season May 15 against Franklin, the two-time defending league champion.

The Generals, who have missed the state playoffs by one spot for the last two seasons, are battling Cleveland and Lincoln for fourth place.

'It was a huge win for us,' Grant coach Debbie Englestad says. 'Hopefully, it'll help us break through this season.'

Grant senior Kelly Huck, one of just two seniors on the roster, had three hits in the game to support sophomore pitcher Taylor Wiedeman, who went the distance.

Cleveland, Grant and Lincoln still have games remaining between them in the next two weeks.

BASEBALL: Wilson's 6-3 win over Franklin on Wednesday set the Trojans up for a run at the PIL title next week.

The Trojans, 9-1, are one loss behind first-place Grant (8-0) through Wednesday's games. Wilson plays third-place Lincoln on Monday, then travels to Grant on Tuesday.

Wilson beat Franklin (4-4) thanks to a three-run fourth inning and a workmanlike outing from starting pitcher Nick Hedgecock, who struck out four and walked six in four and two-thirds innings. Wilson also had three errors, a team high this season.

'We've been making the routine plays on defense, that's been one of our keys to winning,' coach Mike Clopton says. 'Where we are in the league standings is maybe a little better than we thought we'd be doing at the start of the season, but now we'd obviously like to win the league title.'

Clopton says one factor in the team's success has been the personal evaluations that players and coaches fill out. He picked up the idea at a national coaching conference.

'I think that really helped us focus on the game at the beginning of the season,' he says. 'Some of the questions are gut-wrenching, but it helps put things in perspective.'

Wilson's game with Grant had been scheduled for today but was moved to Tuesday because of a conflict with the Grant prom.

The league's other key game next week is Monday, when Cleveland travels to Franklin in a battle for fourth place, the final state playoff berth.

Notes: Central Catholic alum Sean Nesbitt qualified for the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials in the marathon Sunday in Louisville, Ky., finishing third in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 30 seconds, at the Kentucky Derby Festival marathon. Nesbitt, 28, graduated from Central in 1993 and lives in Boulder, Colo. The U.S. marathon trials are scheduled for Birmingham, Ala., in February. The 2004 Olympics will be in Athens, Greece. É Jamil Berry, nephew of Lincoln basketball coach Troy Berry, might walk on in basketball at the University of Oregon after averaging 18 points as a senior at La Salle High. Berry, a 6-3 guard, has an academic scholarship to attend Oregon, but the basketball program hasn't offered him compensation. That is a problem, according to his adviser, Elijah Bradley Muhammad. 'If he gets hurt, his insurance has to pay for that,' Muhammad says. 'The school has to pay for his books or his meals or something for him to qualify for health insurance,' he says, and so far there's been no word from Oregon coach Ernie Kent.

Contact Cliff Pfenning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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