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Not ones to rest on laurels, 12A Panthers ready for fall

(Submitted photo) Hot weather in Indiana didn’t stop members of 12A Panthers softball team from posing for this photo. Pictured, front row: Tabby Humphreys. Back row: Kennan Feiring, Kimi Ito, Lauren Radley, Alyx Crager, Kiana Villarreal and Kinsey McNaught.

Last September the 12A Oregon Panthers began their 2009-10 season with high expectations and big goals.

Seven girls from the previous year’s roster was coming off a 48th place finish at the 2009 ASA national championship and a fourth place finish at the Oregon state championship.

This year, with the addition of five players, the team began a campaign to win the state championship, qualify for nationals once again, and improve on their 48th place finish.

On Thursday, Aug. 5, the team’s season game to an end with a 6-3 loss to the Florida state champion, Gainesville Gold, at the 2010 ASA National Championship in Bloomington, Indiana.

While the team didn’t quite meet its goal of top 25 at nationals, it performed very well in very difficult conditions.  Temperature for the week averaged around 95 degrees and with humidity the heat index rose to 102 degrees. The top temperature was at 102 on Wednesday, with a heat index of 109 degrees.  Unfortunately the team had to play at both noon and again at 8 p.m. on that particular day.

The 2010 national championship included 102 teams from across the United States. The Panthers went 2-3 with wins against Texas Premier Softball (TPS) and the Illinois Outlaws.  Their losses came to the Sorcerers and Magic, both from the San Francisco Bay Area, and Gainesville.

“Outside of our loss to the Magic, we competed very well against every team,” said Rick Crager, assistant coach for the team. “These are the best teams in the country and every game is a challenge.”

The Panthers had a magical season. They’ve competed in 102 games since last September and finished with a record of 84-12. They won the 12A Oregon state championship, as well as the 12A Northwest regional championship.  They also finished in the top three at two national qualifier tournaments in Kent, Washington and Redding, California.

“This was just a great season by a group of very special girls.” said Crager. “They all worked so hard and really gave it everything they had this season.”

The team includes four Keizer girls – Alyx Crager, Kinsey McNaught, Kimi Ito, and Kiana Villarreal.  A fifth Keizer girl, Megan Ulrey, was a member of the team for most of the season.

All five were teammates as 10U Keizer Lady Celts that finished fifth in the state in 2008.

“I’m so proud to have been a part of this amazing team, but also a part of helping each of the five Keizer girls for the last five years. They are all very special to me.” said Rick Crager.

The girls now move up to the 14U ASA level. Some girls will continue to participate in the Panther program, while other may seek new opportunities and/or other interests.

“This is the age where kids begin to seek new and different opportunities that fits their individual interests,” said Rick Crager.

Nonetheless, wherever they go, they will always have the 2009-10 season which was truly a year to remember.

The 2009-10 Oregon Panthers are: Kinsey McNaught, Tabby Humphreys, Krysta Slate, Sam Hensley, Madi Hopper, Alyx Crager, Kimi Ito, Kennan Feiring, Lauren Radley, Kiana Villarreal, and Paityn Willoughby.

Two players joined the team at Nationals: Connor Borrigo and Shawna Burke.

Former player includes Megan Ulrey.