Cowgirl team graduates just four players from squad that finished second in OSAA Class 4A championship

The Crook County Cowgirls made history this year when they became the first team from Central Oregon to reach the OSAA softball state championship.LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Jillian Denney hits a ball during one of the Cowgirls' three games with Molalla. Denney is one of a solid core of players with varsity experience who will return off of this year's team, which finished second at state.

The Cowgirls came out on the short end of an 8-6 game against undefeated Henley. Still, the team had a lot to be proud of.

"The girls just had an incredible season," head coach Jessica Cross said. "They worked hard, and the work paid off. They set goals early in the season, and they worked together to reach those goals."

The Cowgirls rolled through the league season, winning the Tri-Valley Conference championship with a 14-1 record. The team finished the year with an impressive 21-6 record.

The season was even more impressive when you take a closer look at the season.

The Cowgirls suffered four of their six defeats in a two-day stretch in late march when starting pitcher McKuenzie McCormick was out of the lineup with a minor injury.

The Cowgirls swept all three regular season games against the defending league champion Gladstone Gladiators, then defeated the Gladiators a fourth time in the state semifinal round.

The Cowgirls lose just four players to graduation. However, those four will be hard to replace.

McCormick, a first team all-state pitcher is gone, as are shortstop Aspen Christiansen, a second-team all-state performer, and Hailey Smith, who was honorable mention all-state.

The final Cowgirl to graduate is third baseman Matney Searcy, an all-league performer.

"I feel like this group of seniors are one of a kind," Cross said. "They are pretty irreplaceable. We are going to have good athletes and stuff, but just the attitudes and the leadership and the presence of these four when they were on the field — it's going to be really hard to find other players to fill those shoes."

Although the seniors will be missed, Cross is optimistic about the team's future.

"Now that these underclassmen have had a taste of this kind of success, that's going to be the goal that they are reaching for every year," she said. "It is really exciting for that kind of precedent to be set coming into the next season. We still have a really solid core returning, and we have some really great athletes in our program."

Adding to the excitement is that the Cowgirl JV team also had an outstanding year. The team lost just one game all season, and most of their games were blow-out victories.

"They were really special," Cross said. "Wayne Hilderbrand has done an outstanding job of preparing those younger girls."

Cross added that the two teams are being run as one program so that when players move back and forth between the two teams, they know exactly what the expectations are.

The one area that may be difficult for the Cowgirls to replace next year is pitching, but Cross is even optimistic about that.

"It's going to be a huge impact of course," she said. "But we have younger pitchers coming in, and they are willing to put the time in. They may not be as dominating, but their hard work is going to pay off, and they are going to get there eventually. Losing McKuenzie on the mound, that's a pretty big hit to our program, but we also have some younger players who have been playing a ton, and they want to succeed."

Cross added that what made the season special was that not only did the team have unprecedented success, but the players were also great kids who got along well together.

"I'm just so incredibly proud of what the girls accomplished," Cross said. "They made school history this year, but more than that, they leaned on each other, and they really united as a team," she said. "Those are the things that as coaches you want to see. Having a winning season is really great, but being a team united for a common goal makes it even more special."

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