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With seven returning juniors, as well as stellar pitching from Abigail Loomis, Cougars aim for TRL title

Canby softball is making its presence felt eight games into the season.

The Cougars have accumulated a 6-2 record through eight games and the No. 5 ranking in the state at 6A. Currently Canby is amid a three-game winning streak, handing losses to South Medford, North Medford and most recently Central Catholic on Tuesday, April 5.

The only teams ahead of the Cougars in the rankings thus far are Jesuit (10-0), Bend (11-0), Newberg (10-0) and Three Rivers League (TRL) foe Tigard (10-1). Canby is slated to face off against Newberg in one of the last nonleague games before starting league play on April 11 after the Herald-Pioneer goes to press; the Cougars also will tangle with Tigard twice in league play.

The secret to the hot start isn't so secret, saidCanby Cougars head coach Ty Kraft. It's the unity brought about by a strong class of juniors.

"We had seven starting sophomores last year," Kraft said. "So, I think just flying under the radar a little bit early on, we knew we had a good team, we knew we had all the pieces and making of a good team. (We have) a lot of talented, high-level players and just another year of maturity has really served us well. They're playing at a high level, like we expected them."

Last year's softball squad brought in an overall record of 8-9, with a 6-6 record against Three Rivers League teams. That included 112 runs scored to 109 runs allowed. So far this year, Canby has held two of its opponents scoreless and four other teams to just a single run.

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Canby senior Abigail Loomis launches a pitch against Central Catholic. Loomis has been the leading force for the Cougars, pitching the majority of Canby's games this season and earning six wins in that time.

A large part of the improved defense through the early part of the season is thanks to starting senior pitcher Abigail Loomis. Loomis, a Willamette University softball commit, has pitched 50 innings in eight games and faced 207 batters; she struck out 72 of them.

"She's our leader, hands-down," Kraft said. "She got herself ready for this season strength-wise and in the offseason, and it's serving her well now to be able to pitch this many games and innings. We're really keeping a close eye on her, just making sure we're not overusing her."

The relief options for Canby are junior Natalie Just, a transfer from Clackamas who was first team all-league in the Mt. Hood Conference last year, as well as sophomore Kaylee Allen.

At the plate the Cougars are led by junior Ava Carroll, a lefty with a penchant for connecting on pitches. Carroll has a batting average of .724 through eight games, getting 21 hits in 28 at-bats and scoring 14 runs in the process.

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Canbys Ava Carroll hits a triple against Central Catholic. Carroll has been a force for the Cougars at the plate thus far, getting 21 hits in 28 at-bats through eight games.

"She's got great hands, she's seeing the ball really well right now and her swing is just dialed in so no matter what the speed is, she's able to adjust and she can lay down bunts with soft hands and takes advantage of what the defense gives her."

Given how well Canby has been at the plate, it was a bit of a surprise when the Cougars fell to McMinnville 13-10 on March 31. McMinnville (8-2) is currently the 13th-ranked team in the state and jumped out early on the Cougars. Canby trailed the Grizzlies 11-4 after the first five innings and despite rallying to score six runs in the final two innings, McMinnville earned the win.

According to Kraft, the loss to McMinnville and the first loss to Bend came down to keeping the ball inside the park.

"The only two games we've lost was really due to home runs," Kraft said. "We lost to Bend 6-2, and they had four home runs, and we lost 13-10 (against McMinnville) and they had six home runs in that game. Take that factor out, keep the ball in the park and our defense doesn't give up errors. Our defense is solid all the way around, and our offense puts runs on the board. We put a lot of pressure on other teams' defenses, putting the ball in play and moving runners around."

The Cougars rebounded from the loss to McMinnville with an impressive pair of wins over South Medford and North Medford on April 2. In the 2-1 win over the South Medford Panthers, then unbeaten at 7-0, Canby's defense showed up big, holding the away team to just one run on six hits. Loomis collected 13 strikeouts over the course of the game.

Both teams earned their first run in the sixth inning, Canby's coming from a Loomis RBI single to bring in Carroll. Tied going into the eighth inning, Carroll found herself on third base and scored the winning run thanks to junior Brooke Herren singling to the third baseman.

Canby's goal from the outset of the season, as determined by the players, is simple: TRL crown or bust.

"Our team sat down and their goal was to win league," Kraft said. "Now our league is tough, and they know that and they know there's no easy game in our league. You got to come to play every day. But that's the team goal is to go in there and compete for that league title and then they set a goal for themselves to be top eight in the state when it comes playoff time."

Kraft is banking on the tough preseason play to hone the squad come league play. The TRL is one of the toughest in the state at 6A. As of April 7, Tigard, Tualatin, Lakeridge and Oregon City are all ranked in the top 10 with Canby.

The Cougars (6-2) will face off against Glencoe (0-9) on Friday, April 8; then they head to Newberg (10-0) on Monday, April 11; and finish out the block of non-league play against Westview (7-3) on Wednesday, April 13.

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