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After moving up to Class 5A Crook County softball team has first losing record since 2013

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County shortstop Berkley Puckett makes an unassisted force out at second base during the Cowgirls' final game of the season against Redmond. Second baseman Kalyn Martinez is also in the photo, hustling to get involved in the play. Puckett, Martinez and Caitlyn Elliott are the only three Cowgirls to graduate off of this year's team.When Crook County moved up from Class 4A to Class 5A at the start of the 2018-2019 school year, no one knew how it would impact the school's sports programs.

Now that the spring sports season is over, those results are in, and no sport was impacted more by the move up than the Cowgirl softball team.

After sporting winning records for five consecutive years, including four state playoff appearances, the Cowgirls fell to just 9-17 on the year and 2-13 in league play.

"I think we grew in a lot of areas," Crook County head coach Jeremy Puckett said following the season. "We were playing against much tougher teams in the league with Hood River, Pendleton and Ridgeview, I guess pretty much all of them. There really wasn't a bad team, even Redmond was pretty decent."

For much of the year, the Intermountain Conference had three teams ranked in the top five in the state.

Hood River Valley and Pendleton each reached the state quarterfinals, while Ridgeview went on to eventually win the state championship.

Meanwhile, the Cowgirls struggled to win games.

Although the team's offense stayed solid, the defense dropped significantly from the previous two seasons.

In 2017 when the team advanced to the state finals, they scored 189 runs, while limiting opponents to just 102. Then in 2018, another playoff year, the Cowgirls scored a whopping 297 runs, while giving up 174.

This year was another story as the team scored a respectable 193 runs, but gave up 271.

"We need to get more depth in our pitching," Puckett said. "In the off season, working on pitching is pretty important."

Adding to the challenges for the Cowgirls, most of the key players for Hood River Valley, Pendleton and Ridgeview will return next season.

Fortunately, the Cowgirls will also have most of their roster returning, with just three players graduating from this year's squad.

However, those players will clearly be missed.

"The seniors did a great job," Puckett said. "They came to practice and they worked hard. I wish them all the best."

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Ashley Owens drives a hit through the middle of the infield during a league game earlier this year. Owens, a junior, led the Cowgirls in hitting on the season with a .452 batting average. Owens played center field for the Cowgirls, who finished the season with a 9-17 record.Shortstop Berkley Puckett had the best statistics of the graduating CCHS players with a .353 batting average and a .500 slugging percentage. Puckett led the team in walks with 10 and also had one of the top fielding percentages on the team with a .841 percentage in 69 attempts.

The remaining two seniors did not hit the ball as well. Catcher Caitlyn Elliott hit just .156 but directed the team's defense the entire season and was one of the most vocal leaders on the team.

Kalyn Martinez, who played second base and pitched, also hit .156. Although Martinez was not as vocal as Elliott, she was still one of the team's leaders as well as playing solid defense throughout the year.

Although the remainder of the team returns, Puckett noted that it will still be hard for the Cowgirls to immediately be competitive.

"We are going to have our work cut out for us next season," he said. "The league's not losing anybody, but we will be working hard in the off season to develop our pitchers in particular."

Key returners for the Cowgirls include junior Ashley Owens, who led the team in batting with a .452 average.

Sophomore Emma Lees, .409 batting average and one of the team's pitchers, also returns. In addition, Liz Barker, who played third base this year but is working on becoming one of the team's pitchers, also returns.

The sophomore sported a .275 batting average as well as playing solid defense at third.

Other key returning players include first baseman Autumn Coffelt, second baseman Alli Vaughan, outfielder Mikinley Puckett, and utility players Olivia Snoke and Sydney Parker.

Despite the disappointing season, Puckett noted that he was still proud of his team.

"The girls did a great job of staying focused and going out to compete each and every game," he said. "They worked hard in practice, and I was really proud of them for their effort."

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