The Ashland High softball team may be young, inexperienced and light in the depth department, but head coach Cheri Kuykendall doesn't want to dwell on the obstacles the Grizzlies will face this season.
Instead, she sees opportunities. Six of the 10 players — that's right, the Grizzlies barely have enough to field a team — are underclassmen, and most will spend this season learning on the job. That may not be a recipe for immediate success, but Ashland is trying to build for the future.
"We're pretty young and inexperienced, but there's a lot of talent," Kuykendall said. "They're going to get better every day."
Head coach: Cheri Kuykendall.
2012: 4-21, lost in 5A play-in round.
Top returners: Hannah Thornton (sr., IF); Teresa Lehman (soph., C); Christina Kuykendall (soph., SS); Savannah Tobrock (sr., OF).
Up next: Roseburg at Ashland,
Barely a week into the season, Ashland has already shown flashes of potential — see Thursday's 22-3 win over Illinois Valley — and given fans a reason to keep the faith. But the Grizzlies are certainly a work in progress. They will usually start a sophomore pitcher in Grace Lenthe who, as Kuykendall put it, is "still trying to get a feel for what's what." And the Grizzlies (1-4) have two sophomores in the infield — shortstop Christina Kuykendall and first baseman Hannah Thornton — and another behind the plate in Teresa Lehman.
So miscues are to be expected. The Grizzlies committed seven errors Saturday in a doubleheader double-loss to Mazama, three two days prior versus Illinois Valley and three during last Tuesday's season-opening loss at Henley.
"They're still learning about each other, but they're getting better every day," Cheri Kuykendall said.
Lenthe will share time in the circle with senior Kylie Howson, who will play third base when she isn't pitching.
In Lenthe, Kuykendall isn't expecting a dominator who can win a game by herself, but she does want to limit the free bases.
"With (Lenthe), we just want her to throw strikes and let our defense work," Kuykendall said. "The more free bases we give the less likely we have the opportunity to win a game."
In the outfield, the Grizzlies have senior Kim Corey in left, senior Savannah Tobrock in center and freshman Giani Pippa-Baker and sophomore McKenna Read sharing time in right.
Pippa-Baker is playing in the outfield for the first time and is still learning the nuances of the position. Tobrock is probably the fastest of the bunch. Kuykendall believes all are capable of coming through for the Grizzlies.
"When they get in the vicinity of the ball, they'll catch it," she said.
Offensively, Christina Kuykendall bats leadoff, followed by Thornton, Lehman and Lenthe. Kuykendall is a solid contact hitter, and Lehman provides some pop — she blasted a home run and a triple against Illinois Valley.
Ashland will have to win two of three games against Eagle Point or finish in the top 24 in the final 5A power rankings in order to qualify for the postseason. That may be a lofty goal considering Ashland's inexperience. Cheri Kuykendall says Ashland's real focus has less to do with numbers than the day-to-day business of improving.
"It's important to me if it's important to the girls, but the reality is that I really want these girls to get beter every day and if it comes to the end and we pull out a series, that's awesome," she said. "But as long as they feel that they're giving 100 percent, whether we win or lose, that's what matters most of all."