Consistency, pitching will be keys for HRV softball

Season preview

Spring sports season has sprung in Hood River, which means it’s time to start talking softball.

Hitters are pinpointing their timing. Pitchers and catchers are ironing out their signals. Coaches are putting the final touches on their lineup cards. The sun is shining.

Not so fast.

The HRV softball team was supposed to be hosting its annual jamboree Monday, but because Westside Field resembled the river to the north, the fun had to be postponed until Thursday.

“At this point, we’re a little tired of practicing,” coach Phil Hukari said. “We’re anxious to see what these girls have got.”

Judging by how the team was ripping the cover off the ball in batting practice Monday — held in the HRVHS gymnasium due to flood-like conditions — Hukari and his staff have much to look forward to.

“I’m confident because of the work the team has put in so far,” he said. “The league is going to be a dogfight for us, but I believe placing in the top four is realistic.”

Coming off an 8-8 season in the Mt. Hood Conference — one in which HRV missed the playoffs by a single game — the Eagles return four starters and will benefit from strong senior leadership by Tara Level (LF), Lesley Betts (RF), Whitney Zuercher (2B) and Angie Martin (3B).

The program is also starting to produce a wealth of solid young talent like freshman shortstop/ pitcher Talia Hinman, catcher Katie Pritchett, and sophomores Ashley Carter (SS/3B), Maria Martinez (1B) and Michelle Connors (Utility).

“Our lineup is very balanced all the way around,” Hukari said. “We haven’t hit the particularly ball well in recent years, but I think this group of girls is capable of turning that around.”

Hinman has earned the starting shortstop job and enters the season with very high expectations. She must also bear the pressure of being one of only two pitchers on the team, along with junior Lauren Gaulke.

“We’re going to need Talia and Lauren to step in every game,” Hukari said. “But we’re no different than most other teams. It’s more about quality than quantity and both girls look like they’re up to the challenge.”

Also playing significant roles for the Eagles this season will be juniors Megan Adams (C), Lori Wimmers (OF), Becki Flory (1B/2B) and Alex Ruiz (OF).

Adams will likely split time behind the plate with Pritchett; Flory will share time with Martinez at first and back up Zuercher at second; Wimmers will see time at all three outfield positions; and Ruiz will play left field, right field and DH.

Hukari said speed will be a question for the Eagles, and the team has no true leadoff hitter. Zuercher and Betts are the most likely candidates to start the batting order, but anything is possible.

“I don’t know yet how quick we are, but we’re not slow either,” Hukari said. “The leadoff role will be earned and may depend on who’s hitting, not speed alone.”

HRV’s first home game is Friday versus Evergreen. The first league game is April 3 against David Douglas.

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