The Lady Celts softball team celebrate after defeating West Salem to go undefeated in Central Valley Conference play. Playoff action starts today against Gresham. Pictured, front row, left to right: Paige Bouska and Olivia Yarbrough. Second row: Assistant coach Lucy Shaw, Genetta Bennett, Molly Bello, Erin Hento, Brooklyn Ross and Taylor Jones. Third row: Hannah Bouska, Nichole McDonald, Hailey Decker and Keri Stein. Back row: Coach Jeff Auvinen, Deven Hunter, Courtney Castronovo and Sarah Stoddard. Photo submitted by Martin Bennett.

By LANCE MASTERSON
Of the Keizertimes

The fact David has rocked Goliath before is not lost on the McNary varsity softball team.

The highly-rated Celts, who went undefeated in CVC play to earn the league’s top seed, open the playoffs by hosting fifth-seeded Gresham at 4:30 p.m.

Gresham is a member of the Mt. Hood Conference. That’s fifth in an eight-team conference.

“We take one game at a time,” said Celts’ starting pitcher Erin Hento. “We can’t get it in our heads that they’re number five and we’re number one. I mean, they’re from a different conference and we don’t know what they faced. We shouldn’t be overconfident when we go into this game. If we keep playing like we’ve been playing, we’ll be fine.”

McNary Coach Jeff Auvinen has been coaching softball for a number of years. One thing he’s learned is that the unexpected happens.

“You just never know in softball,” he said. “Softball and baseball are tough sports to forecast because there are so many unexpected things that happen out there. All it takes is a bad bounce.”

McNary catcher also preaches caution.

“I don’t know much about Gresham,” said Bennett. “But they’re a playoff team, so they should still be pretty good.”

Bennett will be calling the pitches for McNary. Her strategy is a simple one: Go with strength.

“What are the pitcher’s strongest pitches. What’s on that day, and who we’re facing,” said Bennett on the factors that go into calling pitches. “It depends on the batters and what their tendencies are.”

But what about when you’re facing a team for the first time like Gresham?

“I watch the batters. I also watch the coach to see how he’s coaching them,” she said.

Bennett added: “You play to their weakness.”

Bennett’s battery mate figures to be Erin Hento, the league’s most valuable pitcher. She enters the playoffs with an earned run average of 1.24 in league play.

“Erin is very fast, very fast. So I have to be fast,” said Bennett, “and if I don’t call a pitch fast enough, she’ll just go with what she likes. I know Erin.”

The two go back five years. They play summer ball together.

Hento respects her catcher.

“I have confidence in her to call the right pitches, because she’s been doing this for forever. And I think she knows that I can hit my spot. Whenever I warm up, I warm up all my pitches, and she can tell me which one’s working and which one’s not working at that time.”

In the game against West Salem, the one that clinched the team’s perfect regular season, Hento relied on her rise ball.

“The rise ball was working, so we called a lot of that,” Hento said. “I just trust what ‘Netta calls because she’s seen me and she’s seen what’s working and what’s not.”

The righty is also working on a new pitch: the change-up.

While Auvinen doesn’t want any opponent overlooked, he still wants his team to remain relaxed and confident.

“I told them one day that if you’re not cocky as a hitter, you’re not going to be a very good hitter. You have to go in there saying ‘I own this pitcher.’ Because if  you don’t, you’re hitting a round object with a round object, and it’s traveling ‘round 60 miles an hour from 43 feet away,” he said. “The best teams are also a little cocky. I think they feel good about their chances. I don’t think it’s a pipe dream in any facet; I think they have a realistic shot (at making the finals).

“Now, could that come crashing down with the first game? Yes. We need to take it game by game. And that’s been our motto all year long, and there’s no reason to change it right now,” concluded Auvinen.