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Keep fingers crossed for Lion softball


Head coach Jeff Edwards made a huge gamble with a brutal preseason, but will it work out in the Lions' favor?

When the softball schedule was finally released for St. Helens, it was fairly easy to grimace and wonder exactly what head coach Jeff Edwards had been thinking when drawing things up a few months back.

   And after a few conversations with Edwards, one thing became clear: he knew exactly what he was getting in to.

While most teams will schedule a few tough opponents, a few medium ones and a few cupcake- erm, ‘weaker' opponents, Edwards decided to gamble. They had an extremely tough regular season schedule ahead of them, and as Class 5A playoff spots are decided upon by a team's place in the power rankings, the idea was to get a preseason boost and hope for the best the rest of the way.

Aside from a few less-than-dangerous opponents at the North Medford Spring Break Invitational, the preseason is as brutal as the regular season stretch. Five of the eight non-tournament opponents are Class 6A powers, with combined records of 22-7. Jesuit, Glencoe, Tualatin and West Albany (5A) are all ranked in the top-10 of their divisions, making the Lions' schedule one of the toughest in the state.

While the outlook for the team was nothing less than glowing, there were still several hiccups that the team would need to overcome. They're strong defensively and with good pitching, they'd be able to win close games. The problem now is the same as it was last season: struggling to score.

Looking at the score lines from several of the Lion's games from their weekend tournament, one could guffaw at my statement putting St. Helens' bats on blast, but take a moment and examine who they blew out.

Phoenix, a Class 4A school between Medford and Ashland on the southern end of Oregon, was making their season debut against the Lions. They're still winless, dropping their last game to Sprague 20-4. The Lions’ next victim, Hidden Valley of Grants Pass, is now 0-8 on the season, losing by nearly nine runs per game.

On the surface, Eagle Point is much the same way. They're 1-3, and lost to St. Helens by eight. The difference, though, is the Eagles lost to No. 7 Glencoe and Sunset by a run each, and knocked off McNary in the last game of the tournament.

The game-changer? A certain pitcher, the main reason why Edwards felt comfortable betting on such stacked odds.

No one could have expected the loss of the team's big gun, Mariah Mulcahy, for the first four games. The first outing – a 2-0 loss to No. 7 West Albany – was a little strange for Edwards, who has hardly coached a contest without the two-time all-state pitcher in the dugout.

That's not to say that Mulcahy's presence will suddenly turn the Lions into a title contender. They lost the tournament finale by 14 runs to No. 5 Tualatin (6A), a game in which they were forced to use three different pitchers after a grueling few days. St. Helens won't have to face that many games of the course of two days for the rest of the season, but it's worth mentioning the precarious position they're in.

If – heaven forbid – Mulcahy goes down, now what? It's not uncommon for contenders to be based around one single player, as pointed out by Edwards in the last few days of practice before the season began, but it's obvious the season and the team's hopes and dreams are resting on a style of play dependent on a dominant pitcher.

The team is set up to win close games with solid defense. They've got speed in the outfield, tenacity in the infield and an ace in the circle. Edwards is a gunslinger in the coach’s box, but I can't help but be worried about some depth problems. The youth did well in several games at the beginning of the season, but the loss against Tualatin exposed some inexperience in the second and third string that might come back to haunt the Lions in the playoffs.

We'll just keep our fingers crossed, shall we?