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Potochnik eyes new course for Grizzlies

Misty Potochnik believes that if everything works out just right, the Grizzlies can finish the season at or near .500 &

a bold prediction considering last season&

s 7-19 record.

— — AHS Softball

— —

preseason coaches poll.

First up: Grants Pass at Ashland (dh), 2:30 p.m. today at North — Mountain Park.

But Ashland High&

s new head softball coach also knows that to do so, her team must overcome an obstacle much greater than a shortcoming in talent or a lack of pitching depth. To win, she says, the Grizzlies will have to defeat a losing mentality that&

s been hammered into them through years of one-sided scores and cellar-dwelling finishes.

The good news is, Potochnik has a plan. Step one is to build the program from the ground up, starting at the youth ASA level. If the girls who play as pre-teens stick with the sport through high school &

Ashland&

s 12-year-old all-star team won the state title in 2004 &

then it stands to reason that the Grizzlies should be able to change their losing ways at the varsity level.

&

I know it&

s going to take a while to turn it around,&

Potochnik said Monday afternoon as her team went through its warm-up routine at North Mountain Park, &

but we do have three good solid freshmen coming in and a bunch of ASA kids coming in the next year. That&

s what we&

ve been trying to do, keeping kids involved so that in the future we have more than 11 kids on the team.&

But those goals are long term, and now that the Southern Oregon Conference season is here Potochnik and the Grizzlies have sharpened their focus on the season ahead. Ashland opens its 2006 SOC campaign today against Grants Pass.

The Lady Cavers were rated No. 4 in the league&

s preseason coaches poll, while the Grizzlies, who finished 0-14 in the SOC last year, were rated dead last (seventh). The first pitch of the doubleheader is scheduled to be thrown at 2:30 p.m. at North Mountain Park.

Ashland will rely heavily on its underclassmen this season, particularly freshman pitcher Isabella Pribyl. Though young, the hard-throwing Pribyl established herself as the team&

s ace during the team&

s 4-2 preseason &

a somewhat surprising run that included consecutive wins over Bend and South Albany.

Also pitching for Ashland will be a pair of returners: junior Jasmine Smith and senior Emily McLaughlin.

Backing that pitching staff up will be a young defense that Potochnik expects to struggle at times, but improve as the season goes on. Three underclassmen start, including two in the infield: sophomore second baseman Samantha Gilbert and freshman third baseman Amanda Good. Junior Kayla Cardoza starts at shortstop and junior April Jorgensen starts at first, with sophomore Kylie Cantrell catching.

The Grizzlies are a little more experienced in the outfield. Freshman Sara Silbowitz starts in left, senior Rheana Laipply in right and senior Bailey Hasty, the anchor of that unit, starts in center. Potochnik hopes Hasty and Laipply, who will be playing high school ball for the first time, can infuse the Grizzlies with a winning attitude after helping the school&

s girls basketball team take fifth at state last month.

&

(Hasty) is, I would say overall, really our solid leader,&

Potochnik said.

When Ashland comes to bat, Gilbert leads off for an offense that&

s averaged 3.8 runs per game in its last five games. Silbowitz bats second, Good third and Hasty, who already has one home run this season, will bat in the cleanup spot. After that, it&

s Cardoza, Jorgensen, McLaughlin, Laipply and Cantrell. The order could change because, as Potochnik says, there isn&

t much of a difference between the top of the order and the bottom of the order.

&

We&

re more like a traditional hitting team,&

she said, &

not necessarily a bunting and slapping team. We&

ll do some of that, but we&

re more solid hitters. We don&

t have a ton of speed, so in softball (we&

re) more of a traditional team &

manufacturing runs that way. And we have some good hitters that will surprise people.&

Roseburg was the coaches pick to win the conference this season, with defending champion Crater second and South Medford third. The league consists of only seven teams this season after Klamath Union dropped out. The top four teams advance to the state playoffs.

If Ashland is anywhere near fourth place when the regular season ends May 13, it will be considered a banner year for the Grizzlies.

&

I think it&

s just changing that mentality,&

Potochnik said. &

I think they&

re starting to believe that they can compete with people and make things happen. We&

ve been working really hard in practice and practices have been, I think, more structured than maybe they have been in the past. The expectations are higher so the girls are rising to that.&

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 3020 or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com.