Mt. Hood teams celebrate return to the diamond in opening slate of games; Barlow could be top team.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Centennial lefty pitcher Anissa McGowan has been an early bright spot for the Eagles as they excitedly dive into the season.It was the perfect day to play softball — sunny, light breeze, fans in the stands, and two Mt. Hood Conference teams excited to be competing in a season that was in doubt a few months ago.

On Wednesday, April 14, Barlow hosted Centennial for a softball showdown. And though the result was lopsided, with the Bruins cruising to a 10-0 victory, there was excitement in the air as the student athletes were happy to be back out on the field.

Some were able to play summer and fall ball with club teams, but Centennial coach Steve Baker said it's a different feeling being able to represent your school.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR -  Barlow softball is one of the powerhouses in the Mt. Hood Conference, and many rank them among the top in the state this season."It's fun to be out there running the bases," Baker said. "We are happy anytime the kids can be active and playing."

The Eagles have an experienced group this season, with four seniors who have been playing varsity since their freshman year.

"They provide great leadership and continuity," Baker said.

In Centennial's first game, they downed Wilson 10-0. It was a strong showing from junior lefthanded pitcher Anissa McGowan, who didn't give up any hits, notched six strikeouts and only walked one.

The bats also came alive during the game — Ellie Greene and Alexis Henderson both had two hits, while senior Trinity Miller ended it with a two-run homerun. For the game she had six RBIs, an impressive performance from an athlete who tore her ACL her sophomore year and missed last year with the pandemic.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Bailey Haga, Barlow senior, runs the bases during an early-season game against Centennial. "I was pleased to see Trinity have a stellar start to her senior year after sitting for so long," Baker said.

Things didn't go as well for Centennial against Barlow, which has been tabbed as one of the top softball programs in the state this year. The Bruins won with a flurry of hits throughout the lineup, solid field play and a pitching clinic from sophomore Brylee Haga.

Barlow has already proven they can win a nail-biter as well. In the opener they held off a late rally on the road by Roosevelt to win 5-4.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Centennial senior Naomi Maldonado steps up to the plate. Even in the loss against Barlow, there were bright spots for Centennial. It looked like the home team was going to mercy-rule the Eagles much earlier, collecting seven runs through the bottom of the third. But Centennial began to make plays defensively, avoiding errors that set them back early, and McGowan found her footing on the mound.

Finally, in the bottom of the sixth, the Bruins put the game away. Kylie Nuttall, senior, hit one deep up the middle, bringing home two runners to clinch the victory. Barlow also won its third game Friday, April 16, beating Gresham 14-2.

"Every game we are going to go out and compete, develop and take advantage of this opportunity," Baker said.

COURTESY PHOTO: SANDY SOFTBALL - Sandy softball is excited to be back together.Sandy softball is looking forward to the challenge of eventually taking on the top teams in the conference, like Barlow.

"We are a young team with some really good leaders," coach Kayla Grahn said. "Our ultimate goal is to grow this program, make our girls better athletes, teammates and people — and also win some games."

Though they had been communicating via email and social media before the spring, the team was happy to finally put names to faces with so many young players on the roster who had never suited up for the Pioneers before.

"We were rusty, and sore after the first few practices," Grahn said. "But the girls were excited to be around each other."

The strength of the Pioneers is the pitching, with three rotating at the mound. Senior McKenna Rattray and junior Abby Bradley take the majority of the pitches, while sophomore Eris Winchester will occasionally get some pitching reps while mainly starting at first base.

Sandy only has two seniors — Rattray and Haylee Lutz — but already they have taken a crucial mentorship role on the team. Grahn has been impressed with their early attempts to pull players aside to share tips and positivity.

The Pioneers split their first two games — losing 5-0 against Wilsonville and then winning a close 5-4 game against Reynolds.

"For the season our focus is to get better between games," Grahn said. "Sports and school are so crucial in general — we will honor the time we have together because you never know when things will change."

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