Bruins look to be in mix for Mount Hood softball title
Barlow's softball team has won at least one playoff game in each of the past six seasons, and that success is not by accident.
Once again, the Bruins are playing a difficult preseason schedule to prepare them for bigger games come May. Barlow has taken on four teams that reached the 6A quarterfinals last season, picking up wins over Jesuit and Oregon City. The Bruins also took on reigning 6A champion Tualatin in a jamboree.
"I make it a point to schedule strong. When we get to the playoffs, I don't want it to be a surprise for the girls," Barlow coach Rob Gehrke said. "I want to have the kids battle tested."
The Bruins were hit by graduation last year, but return a veteran presence in key spots led by senior center fielder Alexa Bailey, who also bats in the lead-off spot.
"She is the engine that makes us go," Gehrke said. "She plays the game all-out aggressive — it seems like she is always getting on base."
Also back is junior pitcher Lexi Geary, who also hits No. 3 in the order and was among the state's leaders in RBIs last season.
"She's a competitor. She doesn't like to lose," Gehrke said. "She stands only 5-foot-3, but she's an absolute bulldog. She's not scared of anybody."
Sophomore Sammie Pemberton is a defensive stopper at shortstop and a speedy base-runner, while Natalie Faulkner provides power to the batting order.
"Sammie plays with a huge softball I.Q — we know if a ground ball goes to her side it's going to be an out," Gehrke said. "Natalie has been tearing the cover off the ball in the middle of our lineup."
The Bruins bring a balanced attack to the offense, capable of zipping around the bases and sending big hits to the fence.
"We can do a little bit of everything," Gehrke said. "We have good athletes who can steal bases, and we can also hit the long ball and drive girls in."
Barlow is off to a 5-3 start and ranked No. 10 in the state.
"They've got heart," Gehrke said. "They are never out of a game. They will scratch and claw to the very last out."
The Bruins have highlighted their preseason by battling back from down 6-2 to beat Jesuit with a seventh-inning spurt.
The Bruins are led by all-league pitcher Jaren Hunter, who has struck out three times as many batters (26) as he has surrendered hits (9) through three starts in the preseason.
"He has better awareness in how to attack guys in the lineup and keep that pitch count down," Barlow coach Scott Hunter said. "We know what we have in Jaren. We're going to be using the preseason to build our rotation around him. We need to fill that void left by three graduated seniors."
Sophomore catcher Wilson Weber is a key to the defense behind the plate.
"He and Jaren had a lot of time together last season, and I have a lot of confidence in them being in sync," Hunter said. "Wilson has the ability to control the running game with his strong arm behind the plate."
Junior Durham Sundberg anchors the outfield.
"He has one of the strongest arms in the league, and he has gotten better at reading balls and tracking down hits."
The struggle early this season has been on the offensive side with a five-run output against South Eugene being the high-water mark.
"The key for us will be having our guys at the top and bottom of the lineup getting on base, because our core group in those three through six spots will knock them in," Hunter said.
That group in the heart of the order includes Weber, Durham, Titus Dumitru and A.J. Pileggi-Taylor.
The Bruins are coming off a 15-13 season that saw them finish in the top half of the Mount Hood Conference.
"At the end of the day everyone wants to be in the mix for the league title, but you measure that progress in steps," Hunter said. "The biggest thing for me is that we develop these guys develop as young men. That they become better than when they got here."
This season preview is slated for our Friday, March 29, print edition.