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Mt. Hood Conference marked by talented youngsters; league title up for grabs

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Gresham freshman Maggie Faulkner pitched during the Sandy Spring Break Softball Tournament. Softball is swinging into the new season as the Mt. Hood Conference title remains up for grabs with plenty of talented teams to keep an eye on.

Last week many joined the Sandy Spring Break Softball Tournament, hosted Monday through Wednesday, March 21-23, by Sandy High School. The tourney allowed teams to cut their teeth against stout defenses, discover their identities and tune up during the first major week of competition.

"I am extremely excited for the season to get underway," said Sandy Coach Robb Spanier.

The early frontrunner in the conference is Gresham, a team of talented underclassmen who are strong defensively and swinging for the fences. With only one senior and one junior on the roster, the team is still discovering its identity even as they pile up early wins.

"They have been dedicated and hardworking in the offseason, and they have been pulling together as a group," said Coach Jim Gardenhire.

As of Friday, March 25, No. 9 Gresham was atop the conference at 5-1, and had a busy showing during the Sandy-hosted tournament. They downed Reynolds 14-2, bested Century 7-2, and then lost to a talented Oregon City.

Gardenhire said some of his players to keep an eye on include pitchers Maggie Faulkner and Autumn Gaboury-Parker; as well as freshman LaTerra Foster-Frison, sophomore Ally Downing, senior Peri Leo, and sophomore Kendall Gardenhire. Both Leo and Gardenhire smashed home runs in the season opening win over Hood River.

"They will need seasoning with experience," Coach Gardenhire said. "(But) already I have seen growth in skills and maturity among the players."

Crosstown rivals Barlow also are going through a youth movement. The Bruins, who finished second in the conference last season, graduated nine talented seniors who were all starters and leaders on the squad.

"We are talented, but we are young," said Coach Rob Gehrke. "This group is going to go as far as our pitching goes."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Reynolds softball has jumped out to a strong start this season. Reynolds also has had a strong start to the season, showing well during the Sandy Tournament. The No. 18 Raiders picked up two nail-biter wins — downing Silverton 14-12 and besting Century 7-6.

Centennial attended the Nelson Invitational Softball Tournament over the same week, picking up wins over McDaniel and Grant.

"My expectations for (the Eagles) are to progress, develop and improve each game as individual players and as a team," said Coach Steve Baker.

He mentioned senior Alexis Henderson (first base); junior Jazzy Kappes (short stop); sophomore Mya Hodgkinson (catcher); and sophomore Peyton Davis (pitcher) as the players to lead his squad.

Finally the host Pioneers also should make a splash in softball this season.

"The strength of our team will be consistency throughout our lineup," Spanier said. "We have 12 players on our team, most of them interchangeable as to multiple positions played."

That dynamic lineup will help Sandy upset teams this year. Two all-league returners, short stop Ashley Allinger and centerfielder Maddie Asboe, should set the tone.

"Offensively we will be paced by Allinger," Spanier said. "Defensively I would be hard pressed to find a more special outfielder in the state than Maddie Asboe — she tracks down balls in the outfield as well as any player I have ever coached."

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