Last years squad failed to earn play-in game for the first time since new system was adopted

The 2013 Crook County High School softball season ended in disappointing fashion.

Although the Cowgirls won their final two games of the year and finished with a 12-14 record, the team failed to earn a play-in game for the first time since the new playoff format was adopted.

With a solid nucleus of returning players, first-year Head Coach Jessica Cross hopes to reverse that LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Bailee Wood rips a single during the Cowgirls' intrasquad scrimmage on Friday. Wood finished the five-inning scrimmage with a pair of hits. The Cowgirls open the season with a doubleheader at Madras this Saturday.

“I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far,” Cross said, following a team scrimmage Friday night.

The scrimmage, which ended with a 10-8 score, featured both the varsity and JV squads, which were combined for the event.

“All kinds of good things happened tonight,” Cross told her team following the scrimmage. “I think it was good all the way around.”

Cross was pleased with how both varsity and JV players performed in the scrimmage, and was pleasantly surprised with some of what she saw.

“Both the varsity and JV seemed to know exactly where they were supposed to be,” she said. “Wayne Hildebrand (the JV coach) is doing a great job getting them prepared, which is really nice, and the girls are all just working really hard. Our pitching looked pretty strong tonight and our catchers are doing great.”

The Cowgirls have a blend of experience and youth on this year’s roster. The team has five seniors who are expected to start, including returning all-league performers Jena Ovens and Kelsee Martin.

“Jena is a machine at shortstop and we’ve got Kelsee back at first so our defense is definitely a lot tighter than it’s been,” Cross said. “All of my seniors are stepping up big time and working hard. They are helping the younger ones and they all know the game. Their gloves are quick and there is lots of communication going on.”

Adding to the mix are freshmen Mattney Searcy, Aspen by: LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Emily Benton delivers a pitch during the Cowgirls' scrimmage on Friday. Benton is expected to be the Cowgirls' No. 1 pitcher this season.Christiansen, and Hailey Smith who are all expected to see extensive playing time.

The team had the largest turnout they have had in several seasons with 32 players, so this year’s varsity roster has 14 players, more than at any time in the last five years.

Cross is pleased with the turnout and noted that the extra players give the team depth that was lacking a year ago.

“It gives us tons of flexibility,” she said. “It gives us lots of options. We are running girls in multiple positions in practice and it leaves us a lot of room to work with every game.”

Still, Cross was quick to point out that despite the depth and experience there will still be growing pains early in the season. Cross is the team’s fourth head coach in the last five years. Although she has been an assistant coach in the program for several seasons, she noted that every time a team changes coaches there are changes that athletes have to adjust to.

“It’s going to take a little while for sure,” she said. “There are definitely some new things for these kids. I think it’s just a matter of learning to trust each other and just a lot of repetition.”

One of the biggest changes this year is that Cross expects players to keep the ball on the ground when they are up to bat.

“We are going to work a lot at moving the runner and small ball,” she said.

Cross added that with a strong defense and the ability to advance runners she believes that the team can be competitive.

“The season starts Saturday at Madras,” she said. “It’s not much time, but I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far.”

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