By DAVE LEDER
News staff writer
PORTLAND — Timely hitting and a series of well-executed sacrifice bunts had Hood River Valley softball coach Phil Hukari smiling on Wednesday as his team defeated Central Catholic, 4-1.
Two runs in the second inning and two more in the third were all the Eagles would need to improve to 3-3 in the preseason. And now that HRV is back to .500, it will look to make its annual sprint through the Intermountain Conference schedule.
“Friday’s game with Pendleton is a big one, but from this point forward, they are all big,” Hukari said of the Eagles’ IMC opener, which was moved to Pendleton on Friday morning due to the return of rain to the Gorge.
“We learned a lot on our trip to San Diego, and I think we are ready to make a run. We should be fine if we can keep getting timely hits and doing the little things.”
The Eagles got both on Wednesday against a rebuilding Central Catholic squad, which was overpowered by HRV pitchers Lindsey Smith and Chelsey Elliott.
Two sacrifice bunts in the second inning set the table for the Eagles’ first two runs, which both scored on a misplayed groundball by Ashley Delepine. Meanwhile, Kara Graves’ two-RBI single in the third gave her team all the cushion it would need.
“I was happy with our focus,” Hukari said. “We played good softball for all seven innings, and did an excellent job with the sacrifice bunts. Everyone I asked to lay one down did it well, which is a good sign.”
Another good sign for the Eagles on Wednesday was their pitching. Smith picked up her third victory of the young season by striking out two and allowing only one hit in four innings of work. Elliott finished the game with a save, allowing one hit, one walk, and striking out six.
Hukari said he has been pleased with his pitchers’ performances of late, but he knows they will need to throw every game like they did on Wednesday if HRV is to make a run at the league championship.
The Eagles also seem to be coming around offensively after putting up eight basehits against the Rams.
Brianne Rowley (1-1), Rochelle Friend (3-4), Delepine (2-4) and Graves (2-3, 2 RBI) continue to hit the ball well, while junior Meghan Flem is on the verge of breaking out.
HRV’s only blemish on Wednesday was stranding six runners in scoring position.
“We were knocking on the door to score more runs, but we kept hitting balls to defenders, who made some good plays,” said assistant coach Wayne Smith.
HRV is hoping to play a non-conference home game today against Forest Grove if the weather holds up.
Next on the schedule is another non-leaguer against Centennial on Tuesday, followed by an April 9 doubleheader vs. Mountain View.