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Cowgirl team loaded with returning talent

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Crook County returns all but one player off of last year's state playoff roster

The 2017 Crook County Cowgirl softball team is loaded with talent.

The Cowgirls return all but one player from last year's team, which reached the first round of the state playoffs and finished the year with a 17-9 record.LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Centerfielder Abby Dalton lays down a bunt during batting practice. Dalton was a first team all-league performer a year ago, and is one of 13 returning varsity players for the Cowgirls.

"We have 13 returning varsity players," said Crook County head coach Jessica Cross. "But our turnout for preseason workouts was a lot lower than it was in years past."

The Cowgirls return four players who were on the Tri-Valley Conference all-league first team a year ago, including player of the year Mckuenzie McCormick.

McCormick, a senior pitcher, was dominant at times a year ago, pitching three no-hitters.

Cross noted that she and battery mate Caitlyn Elliott have spent the entire school year, beginning in September, working together.

"We love that we have Mckuenzie back and that her and Caitlyn have been working a ton in this off season to get ready to be the core of our field," Cross said. "They have put a lot of time and hours in together."

Also on last year's all-league first team were shortstop Aspen Christiansen, centerfielder Abby Dalton, and utility player Hailey Smith.

In addition, first baseman Emma Ackley received honorable mention all-league recognition.

Christiansen, a senior, was not only a first team all-league performer, she was also named honorable mention all-state a year ago.

Meanwhile, Smith and Dalton are both juniors this year and should see significant playing time.

Both players can pitch, although Dalton will probably spend all of her time in centerfield because of her defensive prowess.

Smith is expected to spell McCormick in the pitchers circle, as well as spending time in left field.

Although the Cowgirls have almost their entire team back from last year, they are still a relatively young team.

Just McCormick and Christiansen will be seniors this year.

In addition, Cross noted that the team has a lot of talented players who are either new to the program this year, or played JV a year ago, who may be able to contribute to the varsity program.

"We do have a lot of talent," Cross said. "This younger class has a lot of talent, too, and that's really going to help. It's going to push these older girls to really earn their starting positions, so that's really nice to see. I think that we're going to be able to move players around a little bit this season, back and forth between varsity and JV."

Cross added that 30 girls turned out for the team this year, so many that she will have to cut some players prior to the first game.

The Cowgirls finished third in the Tri-Valley Conference last year with a 9-6 conference mark.

Gladstone, who returns conference pitcher of the year, Madi Mott, won the league title with a 12-3 conference record, while Corbett, 11-4, finished second.

Although the Cowgirls have an experienced team returning, they have yet to win a conference championship since joining the Tri-Valley Conference three years ago.

"We have a ton of talent," Cross said. "It's just a matter of how much drive and work these girls put in and what they really want out of this season."

The first chance to see the Cowgirls in action will be on Friday, March 10 at their annual Blue and Gold Scrimmage.

The chili dog dinner is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. with the scrimmage to follow at approximately 5:30 p.m.

The team will open the regular season the following week when they go on the road to face Redmond on Monday, March 13, then are on the road again on Wednesday, March 15 when they take on the Mountain View Cougars.

Both games are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.