Forest Grove replaces four starters from last year's 21-win team that finished third in the conference

The Forest Grove softball team begins the 2014 season in a situation both interesting and exciting.

The Vikings are coming off of a wildly successful 2013 campaign in which they rang up a 21-7 record, finished third in the Pacific Conference (10-4) and advanced to the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.

With seven varsity returners, they boast a lot of talent. But after graduating four seniors last spring, they also have some questions marks, especially how they will fare with breaking in an entirely new outfield. How the youngsters — seven of the 13 girls on the roster are underclassmen — adjust to the varsity level or to more playing time also remains to be seen.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff to learn. We haven’t played a lot of varsity softball yet,” Forest Grove coach Trevor Tusow said. “We don’t have a lot of game experience with some of our players yet, but they’re experienced softball players.

“We’ve just got to get them in and get them used to kind of our system. They’re fantastic kids. We’re really lucky again.”

One area in which Forest Grove brings back both talent and experience is in the pitching circle. Both Emily Peters and Shelby Turner are back after splitting pitching duties last season and spending time in the infield when not throwing. Both players went 5-2 in league play, and Peters, now a junior, earned first team all-league honors. A senior, Turner was a first team all-league and honorable mention all-state pick for her infield work.

“We expect to use them both a lot like we did last year. Statistically, they almost split innings down the middle last year,” Tusow noted. “They both can play multiple positions on defense, so it’s nice to be able to keep their bats in the lineup even when they’re not pitching. The versatility of those two really is huge for us.”

Most of the infield also returns, including Siera Martinez at first base, Sarah Hess at shortstop, and Leena Silvis and Carissa Brown, who both play catcher and third base.

Both juniors, Silvis (first team) and Hess (second team) each earned all-league honors.

“We do return the core of our infield, so that’s important,” Tusow said.

As for the outfield, Tusow has a center fielder to build around in Kendra Bailey. The junior had to bide her time last year behind the all-star trio of Molly Johnson, Alexis Richey and Iesha Johnson, but she is talented and ready for her turn and taking on a leadership role with her teammates.

Senior Jessica Doyle should also see time in the outfield. This year’s freshman class includes Sierra Gunderson, whom Tusow said will likely start in the outfield.

Some of the other new faces are freshmen Skyler Crowell, Chandler Young and Maddie Haugen, and sophomore Rakell Barrios.

So with a lot of ability and also unknowns, Forest Grove now gets to start seeing how it will turn out.

“We’re looking at this as a process. It’s definitely a process in terms of getting where we can go,” Tusow said. “We’ve got kids that can do some special things. We have to build that together as a team.”

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