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College Softball: Wou Eyes Gnac Crown

MONMOUTH — The early part of Western Oregon’s 2014 season has been about one thing: Growing up.   After a 2013 season that saw the Wolves go 16-8 in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play, Western Oregon entered 2014 with 12 players in their first year with the program as the Wolves started the season 6-9.    “For the most part, our team is pretty young,” WOU coach Lonny Sargent said. “Getting to go outside and play in tournaments is our biggest thing right now.”    While younger players may make up a big portion of the Wolves’ roster, that doesn’t mean Western is lacking in leaders.   At the plate    Prior to the start of the season, senior infielder Ashlie Gardner said she had one main focus.   “I worked on hitting and speed,” Gardner said. “Sometimes, I lay down a quick bunt and I worked on that a lot.”   That work is paying off.    Gardner is batting .371. She and first-team GNAC selection Amanda Evola and freshman infielder Kelsie Gardner have two home runs each while combining for 38 runs batted in.    “Offensively, I don’t think we could ask for anything better right now,” Gardner said. “We’re scoring a lot of runs right now.”    But Western Oregon’s weapons don’t stop there. Seniors Melanie Pfeiffer, Danielle Hannan and Bridjet Box are also hitting above .300, giving Western Oregon numerous options for its lineup in any given game.    “It makes it a difficult task figuring out who you put in there, which ones are going to mesh well,” Sargent said. “… We feel like we can put anyone in there and expect them to do their job that day.”    And while the team works out its infield and outfield lineup, it’s the bats Western Oregon will rely on.    “We’ll be looking for our offense to take pressure off of our pitching and defense,” Sargent said.    Pitching   While the Wolves pose a major threat at the plate, Western Oregon’s pitching staff is also looking to prove itself as a major force. First team GNAC selection Jourdan Williams and Dallas High graduate Eryka Brill are expected to anchor the Wolves’ staff, with Kelli Demianew seeing significant action as well.    Williams is coming off a 2013 season where she hit eight home runs at the plate and had a 3.78 earned run average on the pitcher’s circle.    But the wild card on the staff is newcomer Sammi Cadwallader.    “Sammi is a freshman, but we expect big things out of her,” Sargent said. “Our pitching should be pretty good throughout our staff.”    Youth movement   Seniors may be at the core of the Wolves’ roster, but it’s the newcomers who will hold the key to Western Oregon’s success – both this season and beyond.    Several newcomers are expected to contribute, Sargent said. They include freshman Lexi Jennings, infielder Destiny Kuehl and catcher Raina Reece, all of whom have appeared in six or more games so far this season.    But for now, the emphasis is having the Wolves’ current leaders begin to teach their new ones.    “I think the biggest thing is making sure our older kids bring the younger kids along and teach them what’s expected,” Sargent said.    For the seniors, there’s one piece of advice they’ve emphasized throughout the season.    “We want to let them know it’s just the same game they’ve been playing for years. It’s not a huge difference,” Box said.   For the Wolves, after making the semifinals of the conference tournament in 2013, Western Oregon is looking to finish the job this season.   “The kids are hungry,” Sargent said. “They want to learn and they want to compete at the highest level.”

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