A solid defense and an improved offense will be the cornerstones of Lyle's 2007 fastpitch softball team.
The Cougars should be especially strong defensively up the middle and at the corners, where they return six senior starters: catcher Jessica Struck, shortstop Kara Woosley and center fielder Shelly Stanovich, and first baseman Joelle Jackson, third baseman Brittney Johnson and left fielder Kiera Murphy.
"One of our strengths this year will be our defense," said veteran Cougars Coach David Barthlow, now in his ninth season. "These girls have been playing these positions at the varsity level for three years now, and they continue to make themselves better."
A strong defense should benefit sophomore pitcher Kristen Stanovich.
The right-hander led Lyle in innings pitched in 2006, when she posted a 4-11 record and a 6.88 earned-run average en route to Greater Columbia B League All-Opponents Team recognition.
Barthlow said he plans to keep Stanovich fresh for a hoped-for post-season run by giving Murphy and sophomore Trisha Erlenbush spot duty during Lyle's 19-game regular season.
"We're hoping to improve on last year's finish in which we got within one game of advancing to the regional tournament," he noted. "And, with this many returning starters, we feel that we can advance farther this season."
To do that, however, the Cougars will need to get better production at the plate.
"We struggled at times last year to score runs," Barthlow noted, "so we've been working pretty hard so far on our hitting."
Lyle's top hitter a year ago was Woosley, who hit .429 with five home runs and four triples, and knocked in 23 runs.
Woosley, who earned GCB All-Opponents Team honors in 2006, will bat behind lead-off hitter Jackson (.254) and No. 2 Kristen Stanovich and in front of cleanup hitter Struck (.200), Shelly Stanovich (.267) and Murphy (.250, 11 RBIs).
Lyle's key games will come against GCB opponents La Salle (4), Klickitat (3) and Sunnyside Christian (3).
"I don't know how the post-season is going to go, with only two of us--La Salle and us--being 2B," Barthlow said. "Last year, La Salle qualified for state and we're going to have to be able to compete with them for that opportunity."
The Cougars open the season this weekend by playing five games in two days: a non-league double-header at home on Friday against Stevenson, then three games Saturday during a tournament in the Tri-Cities.
Softball returns in Klickitat after taking a year off.
Vandals Coach Yvette Schultz will look to rebuild the team around three returning players: senior pitcher/catcher Melissa Huwe, senior outfielder Cici Jones and junior second baseman Kim Odle.
"We're a beginning team that has hopes of learning the game, playing our hardest and improving with every game," Schultz said.
Rounding out the Vandals' 11-player roster are senior Aryn Davis, junior Catrina Wynn, sophomore Kali Linville, freshmen Tia Spino, Zoe Lindner and Laura Justman, and eighth-graders Brenda Lambert and Samantha Brewer.
"We might have only 11 girls, but they're very eager girls with great attitudes and a willingness to learn," Schultz said.
The Vandals get their 17-game regular season under way next Tuesday with a non-league double-header at Goldendale against the Timberwolves jayvee.