Ask the Hood River Valley softball players what they think about the upcoming season and they are likely to say all the right things.
“We just want to keep it positive and have fun,” junior infielder Ashley Carter says.
“The team looks strong and we’re all anxious to see what we have compared to the other IMC teams,” adds junior utility player Michelle Connors.
But, despite the players’ cautious words of optimism regarding the new season — one in which the Eagles will be competing in the Intermountain Conference for the first time — there are also a few expectations they may have to live up to.
“If we’re not battling for the league title, we will be disappointed,” head coach Phil Hukari said. “We plan to be right in the mix come playoff time.”
HRV is coming off its first state playoff appearance in six years, and most of the team’s core is returning in 2003.
Carter (SS/3B) and Connors (3B) will lead an experienced infield that also features two returning starters — junior Maria Martinez (1B) and sophomore Katie Pritchett (C) — along with senior varsity returnee Becki Flory (2B).
While Connors will play some third base, she will have equal
responsibilities in the outfield as the team’s returning center fielder. When Connors plays center, Carter will move to third, and one of the team’s younger members, like sophomores Ashley Delepine or Katie Flory, will take some outfield reps.
Adding strength to the infield are the Eagles’ top two pitchers from a year ago. First team all-Mt. Hood Conference selection Talia Hinman will enter the season as the No. 1 pitcher, while senior Lauren Gaulke will be the No. 2.
Freshman Stefanie Draper may also be used on the mound this season, but she will likely play first base or designated hitter until she is able to return from a nagging wrist injury.
Likewise, Hukari would like to use fellow freshman Meghan Flem in a variety of roles, including catcher, designated hitter and even the outfield.
“Most days, Meghan will be in the lineup somewhere,” Hukari said. “She has a really strong bat and we need her in the lineup.”
Additional contributors for the Eagles in 2003 will be outfielders Lori Wimmers, a senior slated to start in left, and Ashley Heck, a sophomore who looks like the starting right fielder during the early season.
“I think we’ll be right in there; at least as good as last year,” said Carter. “Making the playoffs and getting our name out there is the biggest thing, and I think we’ll pull it all together this year.”
For that to happen, HRV will need three things to happen: Hinman must stay healthy, Gaulke must pitch as consistently as she did late last season, and the defense that carried them down the stretch in 2002 must also be there.
Oh, and don’t forget about the bats.
“Healthy pitchers and solid hitting will be the keys this year,” Connors said. “We have a lot of talent and I’m really excited.”