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Spring sports preview 2014: Canby softball


Future college players Gina Bond and Colleen Crutchfield highlight a talented roster under new Cougars coach Mike Higgins.

by: JEFF GOODMAN / FILE - Kaelynn Miller and the Canby softball team are vying for a 21st-consecutive playoff appearance this season.Mike Higgins saw a special opportunity when he learned of the Canby softball team’s coaching vacancy.

He already knew several Cougars players through his time as a club softball coach. He already had experience in the Three Rivers League as an assistant at West Linn and wanted to develop a program of his own.

So when longer-term West Linn assistant Scott Smith was given the head coaching job there following the retirement of longtime Lions coach Jamie LeVeque, Higgins eyed Canby as a natural fit.

And now that he’s familiar with the entire roster, he couldn’t be more excited for the 2014 campaign.

Higgins replaces Laurie Smallwood, who guided the team to a 31-22 record and a 16-14 mark in conference play with two playoff appearances in as many years at the helm.

A former baseball player and general manager for the Portland Beavers minor-league baseball team, Higgins didn’t hesitate when asked whether a 21st-consecutive playoff appearance is in the cards for the Cougars.

“It better be,” he said. “This is a special team. I think this team has the ability to come in and vie for a championship. Playoffs have got to be in the mix.”

His optimism and high expectations make sense: Canby, which last won a league title in 2011 under then-coach Clare Burnum, boasts nine returning letter-winners.

The group is highlighted by senior co-captains Gina Bond and Colleen Crutchfield, who will continue their careers in the collegiate ranks.

Bond, a decorated infielder who is headed to Oregon State, will play mostly at shortstop.

“To sign and play in the Pac-12 — it’s the holy grail of college softball. For this league, it’s probably a once-in-every-year-15-year occurrence. We’re blessed to have her on our team.”

Crutchfield, who has signed with the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., will play behind the plate again after making the all-league second team last year.

“She’s a special catcher also a special hitter on our team and in our league,” Higgins said. “When you look at players in the Three Rivers league, we might have a couple of the best ones right here.”

Crutchfield, Aunika Turner and second baseman Alyssa Branscum have all played for Higgins in the club ranks.

Higgins said he believes Turner, who is back in the lineup after a hiatus in 2013, could be one of the best pitchers in the conference this season. Elizabeth Castro is also expected to see time in the circle.

Joining Branscum and Bond in the infield are Canby seniors Hana Thomas and Haley Davis, who figure to contribute at first base and third base, respectively.

Returning all-league centerfielder Haley Conroy will anchor the outfield. Kaelynn Miller, Lucy Yazzolino and Keili Saatkamp will contend for fielding time as well.

Higgins said he also wants to find way to incorporate sophomore Sarah Bizon into the lineup, especially for her hitting skills.

The team enters its season without two key contributors from last year’s team in Megan Egli and Bailey Raines. Egli elected not to return after earning all-league honorable mention last season. Raines will soon have surgery on the knee she damaged in girls basketball.



Coach: Mike Higgins (first year)

Last year: 15-12 (7-8 in the Three Rivers League); lost to West Salem in the first round of the playoffs

Key players: Gina Bond, Colleen Crutchfield, Aunika Turner, Alyssa Branscum, Hana Thomas, Haley Davis, Haley Conroy, Lucy Yazzolino, Kaelynn Miller, Keili Saatkamp, Elizabeth Castro

Key losses: Bailey Raines, Megan Egli

Outlook: Under new coach Mike Higgins, Canby is in the hunt for its 21st-consecutive playoff appearance and its first league title since 2011.