MILTON-FREEWATER - The goal that the 2012 Mac-Hi softball team wants to attain this season can be summed up with three numbers.
To put it another way: June 2, 2012. The day that the Oregon Class 4A state championship game is played at Oregon State University.
The Pioneers reached the state quartfinals last season before having their hearts broken by Greater Oregon League rival Ontario, 8-7. Prior to that one-run defeat, Mac-Hi mashed Marshall, 23-1, in a play-in game and knocked off Newport, 9-1, in the opening round of the playoffs.
Head coach Nicole Christian, in her fourth year, said her team has a great chance to win the GOL title and compete for the 4A crown.
"We have great chemistry as a team and the will to win," said Christian, who led the Pioneers to a 6-6 league record and 18-10 overall mark in 2011. "These girls are constantly working to get better and have the drive to take home a state championship."
Key players returning this season include a pair of seniors - second-team, all-conference selections Kalyn Odman (first base) and Kaitlin Erm (pitcher/right field). Jolene Brannan and Erika Griffith, who split time on the junior varsity last year, are "improving players and will battle for a starting spot in the outfield," Christian said.
A new addition, senior pitcher Haley Freske, figures to be a "huge addition to our pitching staff and batting lineup," Christian said.
Heading up the list of juniors are a quartet of GOL first-team choices from a year ago - power hitters Cheyenne Kessler (catcher), Karli Cortez (third base) and Megan Reed (shortstop/pitcher), and lead-off hitter Kariss Carrillo (left field). Meghan Kimball and Heather Carter will "battle" to earn starting status at second base, Christian said, following the graduation of Shawney Garcia.
Rounding out the junior crop are center fielder Brianna Crewse and utility player Brittney Kralman.
Carter and Kralman are up from the junior varsity.
"Overall we are faster as a team, with a strong lineup from one through nine," Christian said.
Brannan, Griffith, Carrillo and Crewse figure to perform well, according to Christian, after "learning the ropes" behind 2011 seniors Alyssa Harrington, Belen Betancourt, Brittney Hall and Mariah McElrath.
"We are sure they will pick up right where those seniors left off," Christian said.
Two others to watch on the varsity roster, Christian said, are freshman pitcher Collette Robert and versatile Katie Woodhall.
"Collette is a huge addition to our pitching staff and is one to watch for the next four years," Christian said. "She has a very strong bat and good speed. Katie is one of the fastest girls and has one of the strongest arms in our program. She will be a backup catcher for Cheyenne and could see some time at short or the outfield."
To meet its lofty goals, Mac-Hi must successfully make its way through a schedule - both non-league and league - that Christian states that observers have tabbed "the toughest in our state."
It opens Tuesday with a road game against defending Class 5A state runner-up Pendleton, and includes trips to two-time defending 4A state champion Cascade and Banks, the 2010 4A runner-up.
The Pioneers will host a tournament at the end of March "with many top-eight finishers in the 4A level," Christian said. Central, Madras, Scappoose and Sweet Home are scheduled to participate.