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Softball: Gervais building for the future, one game at a time

Cougars changing the culture of softball at Gervais High School

PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais senior Naomi Saalfeld is one of several veteran players helping to set the tone for the Cougar softball team, which is looking to rebuild itself into a playoff contender after years of last-place finishes in the conference standings.
Gervais senior Mireysi Ventura rounds third base and makes a beeline toward home plate as her teammates on the Cougar softball team raise their voices from a raucous din to a cacophony of cheers mixed with scream.

Ventura slides into home feet first, tagging the plate, but not in time to avoid the out. Gervais head coach Dan Saalfeld marches in from his spot at third base, where he argues that Ventura's foot slipped under the tag, but the umpire's ruling stands. Ventura is out. The game is over.

Final score — 19-0 loss to No. 5 Scio.

It's an odd juxtaposition from the play at the plate to end the game. The Cougars are 2-10 this season and have lost all three games against the Loggers by a 53-5 margin, but it's difficult to tell that by the atmosphere surrounding the Gervais dugout.

"The last couple weeks we've been really forcing ourselves to not care about who we're playing," Saalfeld said. "They've started to buy into the fact that you bring your effort, no matter what."

The Cougars are trying to shake off the malaise of spending the past half-decade at the bottom of the conference standings. Last year's team took the first step by winning its first games in three years, and this year's team came into the season looking to build upon that success by eyeing a trip to the playoffs.

But in order to play at the level needed to compete for the post season, the Cougars first must believe they can do it.

"It's all mental at this point," Saalfeld said. "They have the skills. They're darn good players from top to bottom, and even our younger players — they're taking cues from some of these vets — they're starting to get that mental aspect of it, because they have the skills."

That attitude can be tough to muster when hosting a team the caliber of Scio (14-1, 8-0 PacWest), which has advanced to the 3A semifinals in each of the last two seasons, but Saalfeld is trying to foster an attitude in the dugout in which the team focuses less on the opponent and more on themselves.

Several times throughout Friday's game, Saalfeld gathered the team in the dugout to rally the players and keep the energy level high, each time ending the conversation with, "Who are we playing?" to which the Cougars loudly responded "WHO CARES?!"

PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais freshman Isabelle Vasquez had a "trial by fire," as head coach Dan Saalfeld described it, in a start against the hard-hitting No. 5 Scio Loggers on Friday. Vasquez pitched a complete game in five innings against the Loggers.
"I don't care who they are, they still have to play us, whether it's Scio, Blanchet or whoever," Saalfeld said. "We've still got to bring our game. We can't let them dictate the terms of the game; we still have to bring our best effort."

While the playoffs look out of reach for Gervais — the team is six games behind No. 10 Blanchet Catholic (10-5, 8-1) for the second and final post season berth awarded to the PacWest Conference — the Cougars have an opportunity to finish above last place in the standings for the first time since the 2012 season.

Gervais is coming off of a 13-7 win at Salem Academy (1-9, 0-8) on April 26 for its first league win of the season and defeated the Crusaders last year for the team's first league victory since joining the PacWest Conference.

The two teams play twice more this season, and while the Cougars appear to be the better team on paper, last week's win on the field helped the players on Gervais build confidence for the final stretch of the season.

"I think they started to realize that we don't play down, we just need to play up where we're at and just keep getting better," Saalfeld said. "I think that's what they finally started realizing, we can win games, we can beat this team."

The win put Gervais just one game behind the Colton Vikings (2-5, 2-4) for fourth place in league, and Saalfeld would like nothing more than to overtake the Vikings when the two teams end the regular season with a double header at Gervais High School on May 12.

"In my mind it comes down to who is going to be four-five-six in league, and we want to be four," Saalfeld said.

But first, the Cougars must face the Blanchet Catholic Cavaliers. The two teams were scheduled to play in Salem on Tuesday and return to Gervais for a second game on Thursday. The Cougars close out the week at Salem Academy on Friday.

Phil Hawkins covers all things sports and Gervais. He can be reached at 503-765-1194 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..