Strong start to softball season proof of North Marion's growth
AURORA, OREGON—When you ask most coaches what the goals are for the season, routinely the answer is along the lines of improvement and getting better. Routinely the markers for improvement show up in the wins and losses column, or in individual stats in the box score.
But for North Marion softball, the improvements are already noticeably.
In the 2021 spring season the Huskies began their abbreviated campaign with six straight defeats, giving up 102 runs in that time and only putting up 24 of their own. The program decided to compete in only junior varsity games for the remainder of the season, going 5-0-1 to close things out.
With that step down into junior varsity in the back of the minds of coaches and players, starting the season off with three straight wins is a sure sign of improvement.
On March 16 North Marion shut down neighboring Woodburn 14-2 in the season debut; against Elmira/Mapleton, North Marion eked out a 7-6 victory on March 18; and in the third game of the season, the Huskies blew out Newport 12-1 to extend their winning streak to three games in a row.
That strong start isn't something that's lost on starting senior pitcher Anna Fuentes.
"I think knowing the reputation of last year for North Marion, my only goal is to improve and have a really fun season," Fuentes said, "especially since this is my senior year."
The improvement is marked by the trust Fuentes feels not only with batterymate Emersyn Alvord but with her defense in the infield and outfield. That trust is built by coaches Russell Bowling, Neil Forste and Brandi Bowling while drilling the fundamentals of the game during practices.
"This year when we started out we said let's see what happens," Russell Bowling said after the Newport game. "Now we're playing varsity ball like it's supposed to be played. Practices are a little more difficult. We're raising the game every practice and they're responding. It's great to see, it's a joy to be around."
That was exemplified in the win over Newport. North Marion was loud from the dugout and a force from the field and at bat. Fuentes allowed just one run in the five inning contest, and didn't give up a hit until the third inning. At bat the team was patient against shaky Newport pitching, taking the walks and getting hits when the opportunity presented itself.
That strong start from Fuentes comes after a season away from the sport. Last year Fuentes tried her hand at tennis before returning to the diamond. It was a way for her to ultimately recharge and rediscover the love of the game.
"I've been playing softball since tee-ball and I think at some point you get kind of in the same rut and you don't really feel like you're playing softball, you're just going through your own routine," Fuentes said. "I think it's very prominent with any athlete that's been doing it, they get burnt out a little bit. Being able to take a step back and play a sport that I've never played before was fun. Coming back made me reconnect with this sport that I really love."
North Marion had a tough out against the No. 3 ranked Astoria in its next outing, losing 10-0 in five innings on March 30. But the stiff tests are a part of the teams progression in order to get ready for a tough league stretch, according to Bowling.
"I think the league is going to be tough like it always is," Bowling said. "The way our schedule is built, I built it on purpose. It goes from not as difficult to, right before league, we're playing the top five teams in the state right now. We're playing Stayton, Banks, Junction City, so it's a pretty rough week next week.
"The rubber will meet the road next week and we'll see where we're at," Bowling continued. "Saturday will be the first really huge test of where we're at and where we want to go as a program."
North Marion (3-1) will play a doubleheader against Tillamook on April 1 and then battle it out with Stayton on Saturday, April 2.
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