MILTON-FREEWATER — McLoughlin High School softball coach Nicole Christian believes the 2013 addition of the Pioneers has some unfinished business to attend to as the upcoming campaign approaches.
The Pioneers are coming off a successful 2012 season in which they tied Baker for the Greater Oregon League regular-season championship. Both teams ended league play with 10-2 records.
Mac-Hi beat the Bulldogs in a play-off contest to earn the GOL’s No. 1 seed into Class 4A state play-off action and downed Philomath to reach the round of 16.
The Pioneers’ season ended with a heartbreaking, 11-inning loss to eventual state champion Banks, 7-6.
With seven starters returning, six of which are seniors, Christian is confident the Pioneers will enjoy a deeper run in the postseason this time around.
“We have a lot of pressure on us this year,” said Christian, whose roster will have 14 players including 10 seniors. “We’re not afraid. We thought we could have gone farther (last season).
“We’ve really got a good chance of being in the championship game in June,” Christian said. “We have the talent. This group has been solid since they were sophomores. We want the conference title and the state title.”
All seven of Mac-Hi’s returning starters received all-league accolades from the GOL a year ago. Six were selected to the first team. Two of the six were recipients of all-state recognition.
Cheyenne Kessler (catcher) and Megan Reed (shortstop/pitcher) were selected to the Class 4A first and third teams, respectively.
Fellow seniors Karli Cortez (third base), Kariss Carrillo (left field/right field), and Brianna Crewse (center field), along with sophomore Colette Robert (pitcher), joined Kessler and Reed on the GOL’s first team.
Senior Meghan Kimball (second base) was a league honorable-mention pick last season.
“I am blessed with the group I have,” Christian said. “The experience is not lacking.”
The best of the rest features four seniors and a trio of sophomores.
Seniors capable of making an impact are Heather Carter (second base), Nicole Hendley (first base), Brianna Kessler (outfielder), and Brittany Kralman (outfielder). Carter split time with Kimball at second base last year and Kessler can play all three outfield positions, Christian said. Kralman suited up for both the junior varsity and varsity teams in 2012, and “was in the outfield some,” Christian said.
The sophomore threesome is comprised of Stephanie Copeland (infielder and pitcher), Adriene Streeter (third base), and Makayla Kelly (first baseman and outfielder).
“Adriene could swing between the junior varsity and varsity,” Christian said. “Makayla has improved a lot over the summer.
“The younger girls, minus Colette, will be great additions to our program,” Christian said. “I look forward to seeing them at the varsity level this year.”
Christian sees Baker and La Grande as the most serious threats to her team’s quest for a GOL championship, and added Ontario is not to be taken for granted.
“We need to play our game every game,” Christian said. “We can’t let down at any time.”
This year’s schedule will include a mix of non-league games against Oregon Class 5A and 6A opponents, and an eight-team tournament at Yantis Park at the end of March, Christian said.
The Pioneers open their season at home against defending 5A state champion Pendleton on March 12.