Paige Bouska slaps back a pitch for a single during a preseason game. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

An undefeated preseason has both players and coaches of the McNary High School varsity softball hopeful for a big run though the Central Valley Conference.

“I think we’re doing pretty good and better than I expected at the beginning of the season,” said Lady Celt Olivia Yarbrough.

“We work really well as a team and everything has been coming together as far as situational hitting,” added Tiffany Kottek.

The Celtics suffered through as many rainouts and postponements as they played actual games, but head coach Jeff Auvinen is buoyed by the team’s performances in clutch situations.

“Four of the six games we’ve had were pretty close throughout. The big thing is that I think we’ll compete when it’s tight,” Auvinen said.

While team members are still working toward putting outstanding offense and defense into a single game, clutch hitting in games with Roseburg and Southridge high schools was pivotal in eking out 8-7 and 12-11 wins, respectively.

“We’ve hit consistently most of the season up and and down the line-up and there have been times when the bottom of the order were the ones that got us going,” Auvinen said.

He cited Brittney Gonzalez and Jordyn Hanson for making huge improvements at the plate over their 2011 season.

“Both of them have been swinging the bat well and it’s good to see,” Auvinen said.

In six games, the Celts have outscored their opponents 60-21.

The Celts’ weakest performance was the close game with Southridge. On paper a 12-run game wouldn’t look good for a pitcher, but the Skyhawks scored only four earned runs against the Hanson in the circle. Most of the remaining runs were the result of nine errors for the Keizer team.

To correct the problem, the team is working hard in practice to develop tighter defensive strategies.

“It’s easy to get the outs if we know what we’re going to do when we have the ball,” Yarbrough said.

For the most part, it’s a matter of overcoming the jitters, Kottek said.

“Some people get antsy, but we relaxed and calmed down and started playing for the love of softball,” she said.

Defense will be important for the team, Auvinen said, as the Celtic pitchers likely won’t be known for strikeouts.

“We pitch to contact and if it’s a play we should make, we need to make it,” he said.

On the other hand, he’s been impressed with the quick acclimation of freshman catcher Kiana Villareal to the varsity pace.

“She blocks out behind the plate really well and has a nice way of handling pitchers,” Auvinen said.

McNary faces North Salem High School at home Friday, April 6, in the first contest of Central Valley Conference play. Game time is 4:30 p.m.