EAGLE POINT — Whether Chloe Hanson fits your ideal on what a softball pitcher should look like doesn't much concern the Eagle Point senior.

EAGLE POINT — Whether Chloe Hanson fits your ideal on what a softball pitcher should look like doesn't much concern the Eagle Point senior.

In fact, the 5-foot-4 Hanson is quite content in having people overlook her and underestimate her abilities.

"I'd like to be 6-1, but that's not going to happen," she says in an upbeat manner. "I definitely do not feel like I'm intimidating. That's actually one of my weapons against teams, though, because they don't expect me to be able to do much as a pitcher."

That may be the thought prior to her first pitch, but things certainly are apt to change before each hitter exits the batter's box.

"You wouldn't think she'd throw that hard but she does," says Eagles head coach Mark Jolliffe. "I would put her up against anybody in the state."

Hanson will have a chance at proving her worth on the biggest stage today as the Class 5A state playoffs begin, with Eagle Point (17-9) playing host to Liberty (16-10) at 4:30 p.m. The Eagles, No. 7 in the state's power rankings, have won seven of their last eight games and swept Ashland in a three-game series to win the 5A Southern Oregon Hybrid championship.

"They've just got to believe in themselves," Jolliffe says of his advice for a deep playoff run. "I think we got the butterflies out the first (play-in) game against Springfield. I think we'll be a little more prepared and won't have as much nervousness anymore."

If anything, Hanson and company have certainly had a season to prepare them for anything and everything. With one game against each of the 6A SOH teams — one of the state's top softball conferences — the Eagles feel like they've seen it all.

"We definitely were challenged (playing the 6A schools)," says Jolliffe, whose team has played only eight home games all season. "We're pretty tested heading into these playoff games. I'll put my pitching and my hitting up against anybody. I think we're a little-known secret down here in 5A softball."

Already this season, Eagle Point has scored narrow victories over Crater and Roseburg, lost one-run games against Lake Oswego and South Medford and split with Grants Pass. Mazama and Henley are two of the top teams at the 4A level, and EP took three of five from the Klamath Falls schools.

One common denominator in all the big games has been Hanson, who hasn't flinched in facing some of the best this state has to offer.

"I think before the big games, I just try and not worry about who we're playing and instead I just focus on doing my best no matter what for my team," says the 17-year-old right-hander. "Other than one or two games, it's been a pretty good season for me."

Hanson has compiled an 11-6 record but, more than anything, has mostly been undone by quality competition. Against SOH foes, she posted a steady 0.62 ERA with 58 strikeouts compared to only 13 walks.

Overall, Jolliffe says his frontline starter has averaged about nine strikeouts per game, highlighted by a 12-strikeout effort in a 1-0 shutout at Roseburg. Hanson, who plays shortstop when not inside the circle, is also hitting .373 with 11 RBIs and only four strikeouts.

"She's been a heckuva pitcher for us," says the coach. "She's held her own against the bigger SOH schools and done real well every time we've sent her out."

If you ask Hanson, however, she's more apt to credit the hard work of her teammates and their continued support for making the real difference this season. Junior Christine McCready is hitting .436 with 29 RBIs and only five strikeouts in 78 at-bats, while her junior cousin Candace Rodgers is hitting at a .329 clip. Seniors Shauntel Rodgers (.363, 14 runs, seven RBIs) and Jennie Fernandes (.310, 13 RBIs) have also been vital to Eagles' return to the state playoffs.

"I definitely think it's been a whole team effort," says Hanson, who has committed to play softball next season at Pacific University. "I know I've pitched games where I've been really upset about how I've done but we've still won because there was a great defense behind me or really good hitting that day."

It's that type of camaraderie that has the Eagles extremely hopeful heading into today's playoff opener. Many of the EP players missed out on making the playoffs last year, and a handful of the holdovers, like Fernandes and Hanson, were part of the 2009 squad that lost 2-1 to Liberty in the first round.

"I think this year the team has really come together and we've been working really well and practicing hard so we could get to this point," says Hanson, who began pitching at age 8 and moved to EP in the summer of 2007. "I'd say we've been looking forward to the playoffs a lot."

"I think, at this point, it definitely has helped us to play so many good teams," she adds, "because we know now that we can beat teams that we definitely didn't think we were supposed to."

Especially when Hanson takes to the circle.

"She's so motivated to do good and is just not satisfied," says Jolliffe. "She just is constantly working and doing all the extras it takes to be successful and has really built herself up to where she is today."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or email khenry@mailtribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Kris_Henry