The Greyhounds sit tied atop the league standings with three games remaining with Vernonia.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Gaston's Brooke Jordan stretches for a groundball during the Greyhounds' game against Knappa Tuesday, May 1, at Gaston High School.It took a while, but the Gaston Greyhounds softball team is making the most of what was originally a difficult situation.

After last season, one in which Gaston finished second in the Northwest League and lost an opening-round state playoff game to Kennedy, there were high expectations for a team returning four of its senior leaders. But with a new coach and senior responsibilities weighing on the upperclassmen, three decided to forego their senior season and, in the process, usher in a new generation of Greyhounds on the diamond. After a handful of games — with mixed results — those seniors returned, and since, it's been all-systems-go for a Greyhound team eying a league championship.

"At the beginning of the season it's always difficult when you have a new coach," said first-year head coach Jessica Garner. "I'm the third head coach that they've had, and being seniors, a lot of them had commitments to school, and they didn't know if they wanted to adjust to a new coach and a new program."

But while three of the four seniors were hesitant, Daisy Clark wasn't. Garner is quick to sing the praises of the returning outfielder who from day one has set the tone for both the younger and older girls.

"Daisy is our starting center fielder and lead-off hitter — she sets the tone for the game, and all of the other girls look up to her," Garner said. "She has been there from the beginning, and she was a real influence on those seniors coming back."

Now, after a difficult double-header sweep at the hands of Knappa Friday, May 4, the Greyhounds find themselves winners of 10 of their last 12 games and tied with the Loggers atop the league standings with a 10-2 record.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Gaston's Daisy Clark takes a swing during the Greyhounds' game against Knappa Tuesday, May 1, at Gaston High School.Garner, a 2010 Gaston graduate and former Linfield Wildcat, spoke to the relative difficulty of the situation, but she had nothing but good things to say about her team and the returning seniors — Taylor Bassel, Julia Clark and Charity Hall — whom she said have done everything expected of them since their return.

"I wanted them to only be here if they wanted to be," Garner said. "My expectations for them were to not only go out and play, but to influence the younger kids ... for the future."

And they have. The coach raved about Bassel, Julia Clark and Hall's approach since their return, and she said they worked hard on and off the field to earn back their spots in the lineup.

"I didn't pursue them, I didn't beg them to come out, they wanted them to come out on their own free will," said Garner. "They definitely missed it, and they sat games, worked hard in practice and earned it."

And the coach has seen it in how they deal with the team. The upperclassmen have been invaluable to Garner, aiding in the teaching and mentoring process and passing along the necessary knowledge for the younger girls going forward.

Hall, a second-team all-league performer last season, has been very encouraging to the six freshmen and sophomores on the Greyhound roster. Garner said she has been a catalyst for the team with her work in the circle.

"Charity has been great on the field, and always encouraging her teammates," Garner said. "And sophomore Hannah Farmer has been solid all year long with a really strong bat."

With a series against third-place Vernonia underway, it's more important than ever to lean on the process rather than looking at past and potential future results.

"We have to think of it as climbing a mountain, and that everyone starts at the bottom and everyone's goal is to win a league championship," Garner said. "The idea is to make progress every week. I think everything is coming together, our bats are coming alive, we're making good decisions, and with these big games coming up, it's all starting to click. They're excited, and I'm excited for them."

Gaston was set to host Vernonia Tuesday, May 8, after this paper's print deadline, and travel to Vernonia Friday, May 11, for a regular-season double-header finale starting at 3 p.m.

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