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SEASON PREVIEW: Matt Smallwood takes the helm in baseball, while Jim Gardenhire leads softball

PMG PHOTO - Gresham senior Evan Olson anchors the outfield when hes not called on to pitch.

Gresham's baseball team is replacing plenty of parts from a team that reached the second round of the playoffs last year.

Topping that list is the head coach with Matt Smallwood stepping in for Ryan Miller, who retired at the end of last season. Smallwood has been a long-time fixture with Gresham's summer legion teams and has spent the last several years as an assistant with the varsity staff.

The Gophers graduated 10 core players from last year's roster, a handful of them taking their game to the college level this spring. Headlining that list is pitcher Jacob Biesterfeld, who has made four appearances as a rookie at the University of Portland.

In fact, during an early-season cancellation, Smallwood gathered his team and the Gophers traveled to 'The Bluff' to cheer on their former teammate.

"Any time you get a chance to do something away from the field like that it's a huge win," Smallwood said. "It was a great bonding experience, and we got to support one of our own. Plus, Jake threw a great game, so that made it even better."

Leading this year's defense is senior Hunter Snow, who is shifting from second base to shortstop.

"He's quick and agile and trustworthy with the baseball — he's a kid we can rely on," Smallwood said.

Also, expected to gobble up grounders on the infield is sophomore Reece McKenzie, while senior Dane Barnham is behind the plate. Evan Olson and Christian Figueroa anchor the outfield.

"It's a really scrappy group," Smallwood said. "A lot depends on what some of these guys can do seeing their first real time with varsity ball."

The Gophers go nine deep in their pitching rotation, meaning opposing teams may be seeing a lot of different looks from the mound.

"It's become common to see guys take it a couple innings at a time, and they might be a model that we go to," Smallwood said. "We won't be relying on any one arm."

Gresham is off to a 3-1 start in the preseason with a pair of one-run wins under their belt.

"We have a lineup that can put the ball in play whether it's our 1 hitter or our 6 or 9 guys."


PMG PHOTO - Gresham pitcher Alise Olson trots toward the dugout after retiring the side in order during a 13-0 early-season at Milwaukie.

SOFTBALL

Gresham's softball team welcomes a new coach with Jim Gardenhire moved from the boys tennis courts to the softball field this spring.

"Right now we're feeling each other out, adjusting to new expectations and fixing the little things as they come up," Gardenhire said.

This year's team is led by juniors Kyla Nannini and Holly Thorsen on the corners.

"Kyla has the ability to throw that long ball across the infield, and she his savvy on the bases," Gardenhire said.

Junior Samantha Staples and sophomore Elizabeth Tuholski stake down the middle of the infield.

"They complement each other well and know their responsibilities around second base," Gardenhire said.

Junior Alisa Olson is expected to carry much of the load in the pitcher's circle.

"She's a positive team leader, who is working to dial in her control and location," Gardenhire said.

The Gophers have split their early-season games, picking up a pair of mercy-rule wins along the way.

"We are tearing the cover off the ball when we're in the cage," Gardenhire said. "Now we need to get those reps outside. My hope is that we can be aggressive at the plate."


This preview appears in our Tuesday, March 26, print edition.

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