Pitching will be pivotal, as the defending TRL champs attempt to reload

With the loss of all-state players Sam Gutwig (pitcher), Sarah Bigej (second base) and Jen Behunin (third base) to graduation, Clackamas High School’s girls softball team has struggled in early preseason.

And it hasn’t helped that athletes’ participation in other sports has slowed the team’s efforts to get up to speed. Returning outfielder Missy Noble missed the Cavaliers’ first two games (Tualatin and Southridge) while she helped lead Clackamas’ dance team to a state title. Returning catcher Vanessa Oakden played in those games short on practice, after contributing to Clackamas’ success in basketball.

The Cavaliers have also been without veteran outfielder Sydney Wilson (volleyball knee injury), who isn’t expected back until mid-April.

Gutwig, Bigej and Behunin were all four-year starters. Gutwig was the TRL Pitcher of the Year last season. The Cavaliers in 2012 rallied around her pitching arm to win the Three Rivers League, and they advanced all the way to last year’s Class 6A semifinals with Gutwig in the circle.

Bigej, the 2012 TRL Player of the Year, had a .516 batting average her senior year. She stole 16 bases and played error-free ball through Clackamas’ 15 league games.

Gutwig has been missed the most this spring. Junior Madison Vrabel and sophomore Amanda Zehr, who have taken over for Gutwig in the circle, had no strikeouts and gave up a combined total of 21 hits in the Cavaliers’ season openers, a 7-1 loss to Tualatin and a 9-8 loss to Southridge.

But the Cavaliers are not without talent.

Seniors Oakden (catcher), Noble (outfield), Wilson (outfield), Mariah Scholes (first base) and Allie Anderegg (third base) are all experienced players returning from last year’s successful Cavalier varsity, as is sophomore shortstop McKenzie Giancola.

Oakden and Wilson were both selected to the Three Rivers League first team of all-stars last season.

Noble and Scholes were named to the 2012 TRL second all-star team, and Giancola garnered honorable mention as an outfielder in last year’s all-star balloting.

Clackamas sophomore second baseman Cassie Haehlen teamed up with Giancola at shortstop and Scholes at first base to turn two double plays in this spring’s loss to Tualatin, and the same threesome turned a double play in the Southridge game.

Giancola hit a grand-slam home run to stake Clackamas to a 7-2 lead in the top of the fourth inning of the Southridge game, but the Cavaliers squandered that lead away. Sophomore Ashley Filler went 2-for-2 at the plate with two doubles, two walks and four runs scored in the losing effort.

“We’ll get better,” Clackamas coach Dave Just said. “But the pitching staff will need to step up.”

The Cavaliers showed signs that they are getting their act together last Thursday, when they finally put a game in the win column, defeating Centennial 4-0.

Vrabel pitched in the shutout, striking out four, walking no one, and scattering four hits.

Noble fired up her teammates in the fourth inning, when she hit a solo home run to straight-away centerfield.

The Cavaliers added a second tally in the fifth frame, when Giancola (2-for-3, 2 stolen bases) hit a sacrifice fly, scoring pinch runner Sydney Opoka.

Filler and Mariah Scholes (2-for-3, double) both cracked run-scoring singles in the sixth inning to round out the Cavaliers’ scoring.

The Cavaliers played solid defense, committing just one error.

Oakden came through with the defensive play of the game in the fifth inning. Trailing 2-0, Centennial had runners at first and second with one down in the fifth, when Oakden gunned down a runner attempting to steal third. Oakden’s throw was so far ahead of the runner that third baseman Jade Haehlen was able to tag the runner out in a rundown.

The Cavaliers (1-3) play Sherwood on the road next Tuesday, and they entertain Forest Grove on Friday, May 5, in their final tuneup for the TRL league season.

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