PREVIEW: Experienced but Still-Young Bruins Look to Climb in NWC Standings in 2012
NEWBERG, Ore. – With nine returning letter winners, including six starters and all three pitchers, a still-youthful George Fox University softball team that has no seniors on the roster is optimistic about its chances of improving and becoming a factor in the Northwest Conference softball race during the upcoming 2012 season.
“With the veterans we have back, and the deepest and most talented roster we have had in years, we should show major improvement if we can avoid injuries,” says head coach Jessica Hollen, who is entering her fourth season with the Bruins. “Last year was difficult in that we lost four projected starters to injuries in the early part of the season and had to play some very young players, but that experience ought to pay off this spring.”
George Fox is coming off a 12-28 season that included a seventh-place finish in the conference at 6-22. Gone from that squad are starting right fielder Shelby Briske, second baseman Becka Doyle, and third baseman Kayla Ward.
Solidifying the Bruins’ chances of climbing in the conference standings are right-handed hurlers Erin Hento (So., Keizer, Ore. / McNary HS) and Allyssa DenDekker (So., Upland, Calif. / St. Lucy’s Priory), who handled a majority of the team’s innings as freshmen. Hento posted a 9-13 record with a 4.46 earned run average and 57 strikeouts in 125.2 innings, all team-leading numbers. DenDekker was 3-13, 5.98 with 25 K’s in 119.1 innings.
“Erin and Allyssa are competitors who give us everything they have,” observes Hollen. “We look for them to improve this year, first because they have a year of experience under their belts and will have more confidence, but also because we have more depth at pitcher. They won’t have to work as many innings this year and should stay strong as the season progresses.”
Taylor Whitmore (Jr., Myrtle Creek, Ore. / South Umpqua HS) was injured most of the 2011 season, going 0-2, 5.78 with six strikeouts in only 13.1 innings after being the staff ace as a freshman. The right-hander’s return to form will help take some of the pressure from last year’s workhorses.
“Taylor suffered from a dislocated ulnar nerve that did not require surgery,” recalls Hollen. “She’s undergone rehab for it and is not at full strength yet, so we will use her primarily as a starter for two or three innings before bringing someone else in until she is completely recovered. Having her for even just a few innings a game will be an asset, though.”
The Bruins have also added a left-hander to their arsenal this spring in Rachel Fielder (Fr., Monroe, Ore. / Monroe HS). Comments Hollen, “Rachel will give us some important innings this spring. With her, we will have more pitching that this program has seen in over a decade, and that in itself is significant.”
Hilary Broadus (So., Dallas, Ore. / Dallas HS) returns behind the plate for the Bruins after batting .239-0-10 as a rookie. Also pressing hard for playing time are newcomers Genetta Bennett (Fr., Keizer, Ore. / McNary HS) and McKenzie Beeson (Fr., Turner, Ore. / Cascade HS).
“Hilary is the incumbent,” notes Hollen, “but the other two make our catching deep and will see plenty of playing time. Genetta is a good defensive catcher who calls a good game, but she’s been limited in the early going by a thumb sprain. McKenzie has been swinging the bat well of late and has good pop time behind the plate. She is a versatile player who can also handle first or be the designated player.”
Honorable mention All-NWC shortstop Bethany Chriss (Jr., Bend, Ore. / Summit HS) returns to anchor the infield, bringing back offensive numbers of .342-5-25 with 15 stolen bases, all team-leading figures. The Bruins’ other returning infielder is Kerrianne Davidson (Jr., Puyallup, Wash. / Emerald Ridge HS), who batted .246-1-18 while spending most of her time at first base, but is also capable of handling third.
“Bethany is not only a terrific offensive threat,” says Hollen, “she’s probably among the top two defensive shortstops in the conference. Kerrianne is a solid first baseman with good hands and some pop at the plate. We are set at those two positions for the next couple of years.”
Second base is expected to go to Jenny Milton (Fr., Centralia, Wash. / Centralia HS), with Mckynna Towery (Jr., Salem, Ore. / South Salem HS), a transfer from Chemeketa Community College, taking over at the hot corner. Providing infield insurance is Kirsten Ankeny (Fr., Milwaukie, Ore. / Rex Putnam HS).
“Our top priority in the off-season was to upgrade our infield defense, and with the newcomers we’ve added, we have definitely done that,” declares Hollen. “Jenny gives us good range at second and is a slap hitter who can really fly; she will probably lead off for us most of the time. Mckynna is a top-notch defensive third baseman whom I have liked for a long time; we tried to get her as a freshman. She gives us intensity and intangibles which are irreplaceable. Kirsten can do a lot of different things and is the ideal utility player whom we can plug in anywhere.”
Speedy Nicole Renteria (Jr., Oceanside, Calif. / Vista HS) and Kris Trindle (So., Portland, Ore. / Sunset HS) return in left and center respectively. Renteria received honorable mention All-NWC honors after batting .298-0-9 with eight stolen bases last year, while Trindle hit .269-0-6 with 11 steals. Felicia Chavez (So., Los Angeles, Calif. / King-Drew Magnet HS) batted .243-0-2 while splitting time between the outfield and the designated player slot and appears targeted for right.
“Nikki and Kris can run with the best of them and they give other teams fits with their speed,” says Hollen. “Kris worked hard to add some strength in the off-season and it has really opened up her game. Felicia has improved both offensively and defensively and should be ready for a big season.”
New outfielders who will battle for playing time include Erika Cremeen (Fr., Clayton, Calif. / Berean Christian HS), Rachel Sundquist (Fr., Hillsboro, Ore. / Century HS), and Chantelle Giles (Fr., Creswell, Ore. / Creswell HS).
“Our outfield situation was the biggest unknown entering the season,” admits Hollen, “but it could become one of our strengths. Rachel and Erika can play anywhere in the outfield, and Chantelle just needs some time to gain experience.”
“Our infield defense will be the biggest area of improvement,” observes Hollen, “and our pitching will be better simply because we have more of it. Offensively, we don’t have a lot of ‘big boppers’, but we expect to hit for a higher average and our overall team speed is good, so we will look to take advantage of that.
“There’s no doubt we are improved in terms of skill, but how many wins that will translate into is hard to say. Our next goal in rebuilding this program is to get to 20 wins, a .500 record, and if we can do that, we’ll be fighting for a chance to make the conference tournament at the end of the year. But it’s a tough conference, with the defending national champions at Linfield and some other very strong teams.”
The Bruins open the new season with three doubleheaders on a swing through southern California, visiting Occidental College on Thursday, Feb. 9, at 2:00 p.m., Chapman University on Friday, Feb. 10, at 3:00 p.m., and California Lutheran University on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 12:00 noon. The Bruins will also participate in the Northwest Cup Tournament at Hood View Park in Clackamas, Ore., on Feb. 18-19, and will have their usual 28-game Northwest Conference schedule. The four-team NWC Tournament is set for April 21-22 at the home site of the regular-season conference champion.