The bad old days are over for Lakeridge High School softball.

Coach Gene Chamberlain's Pacers achieved respectability last season, winning nine games and defeating every league opponent, except powerful Putnam.

Now he expects to be a lot more than respectable in 2008.

'We're going to be improved,' Chamberlain said. 'Maybe we'll be improved a lot. We're hopeful of having a breakout year and bringing softball back to the Lakeridge area.'

When Chamberlain arrived on the scene in 2005, Lakeridge softball not only didn't have any tradition, it didn't have any wins.

'The record was something like 0-100,' Chamberlain said.

Unfortunately, Chamberlain's '05 club also failed to win any games. But the next year they finally broke through to get two victories, and in 2007 they were capable of beating anybody.

Now, Chamberlain thinks his Pacers can be a Three Rivers League title contender thanks to some excellent returnees and three talented freshmen.

Topping the talent list is pitcher Natalie Rose, who made first team all-league as a sophomore. She became the first Lakeridge High School softball player to earn such an honor.

'Natalie has good control and she makes the ball move,' Chamberlain said. 'She's also a really good hitter.'

A quartet of honorable mention all-league players is also back.

Taylor Ramsey anchors the team at catcher. She has improved every year, especially in the throwing department.

McKenzie Griffin is 'solid all the way around.' A smart base runner, she could end up being leadoff hitter for the Pacers.

Chelsea Canlas, who plays both shortstop and outfield, gets lots of praise from Chamberlain - 'good glove, good wheels, hits the ball well, quick.'

Alexis Graybeal will also play both infield and outfield. She has an excellent throwing arm and is 'pretty quick.'

'We've got three or four classic hitters,' Chamberlain said. 'We've also got some good wheels returning.'

Besides the nine returning letter winners, Lakeridge has an excellent trio of freshmen in Alex Pyle, Claire McKinney and Samantha Evans.

'They're really good. They're all a pleasant surprise,' Chamberlain said. 'Two are pitchers and they take private pitching lessons. Alex played on the freshman basketball team. She has really good wheels.'

The only down note for 2008 Pacer softball is that there are only 13 players on the roster and there is no JV team.

'We would really like to have a JV team,' Chamberlain said. 'That's the future of your program.'

The team is getting excellent coaching. Not only from Chamberlain, a veteran of many years, but his daughter Trissa Davis and graduate student Jillian Toboloski.

'I actually think my daughter is a better coach than her old man,' Chamberlain said. 'She has got the experience of five or six different coaches.'

Looking at the Three Rivers League, Chamberlain thinks Putnam has to be the favorite, largely because it returns super pitcher Lauren Harvey.

Clubs capable of pulling surprises are Oregon City, which has a superb coach in Dave Adelhart, and Clackamas. Other teams capable of winning are West Linn, Lake Oswego and Milwaukie.

Then there is Lakeridge, a team that has come a long, long way and wants to go even longer.

'Our kids' goal is to go to state,' Chamberlain said. 'I'm certainly not going to discourage that.'

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