There were plenty of top performers in the area on the softball diamond this season, and this column will highlight the best of the best from 2012.

While the Hermiston team left the playoffs before many (myself included) thought they would, they are still stacked with talented players and could potentially make yet another run next season. They will have to shift players around to make up for a very strong departing senior class, but I’m sure they’ll just reload, rather than rebuild.

Two area teams, Pendleton (I know it hurts, Hermiston fans) and Heppner, brought the state championship back to the east side of the state with impressive games against worthy opponents.

The Spencer sisters (Rayne and Jory) drove in all six of Pendleton’s runs in a 6-1 win against Silverton to claim the 5A title while Heppner capitalized on Glendale mistakes and All-Herald Pitcher of the Year Baily Bennett stymied a potent offense in a 4-2 victory.

Anyway, there were a couple of decisions I had to make with this team, and one of them was very difficult and contradicts the coaches’ all-conference voting.

But, this is the Herald’s team and I will dive in to the details and justification. So here it is, the All-Herald softball first team.

Most Valuable Player - Kristen Crawford, sr., Pendleton

Pendleton’s Kristen Crawford is one of those players that makes coaches wish high school was more than four years.

This year, Crawford went 23-5 with a miniscule 1.18 ERA and an eye-popping 149 strikeouts. She walked 34 in 183.1 innings pitched and held opposing hitters to a .200 average.

Crawford earned the pitching win in every Pendleton victory.

Without Crawford, the Bucks don’t make it to the state championship — it’s as simple as that. She had an outstanding career in Pendleton and the Hermiston fans will be thankful she’s no longer wearing green and gold, I’m sure.

Pitcher of the Year - Baily Bennett, jr., Heppner

While an argument could be made for Bennett as the most valuable player on this list, I decided to slot her as the pitcher of the year.

While she plays in what seemed to be the toughest league in the state in Class 2A, Crawford put up the crazy numbers in what seemed to be the toughest league in Class 5A.

It seems unfair to the athletes from smaller schools (trust me, I know from experience) that the athletes from the larger schools earn these types of awards just because they are in a larger school, but the games are different at each level.

Bennett was given a decision in every game Heppner played this year, which works out to a 23-4 record. Including the playoffs, she had a 0.44 ERA and 193 strikeouts. That’s hard to do in a video game, let alone in real life.

The scary thing about Bennett, well at least to other teams, is that she’ll be back next season. I’ll be waiting to see what she does for an encore.

Crawford and Bennett are also the first-team pitchers on the All-Herald Team.

Coach of the Year - Petra Payne, Heppner

Payne guided the Mustangs to not only their first state championship in school history, but their first playoff appearance past the quarterfinals.

While she had 2A’s best pitcher in place, she was able to develop the skills of the rest of the players and get the most out of them she could — the ultimate goal for a coach. They hit the ball at the right time and capitalized on the other team’s mistakes when it mattered the most. That’s what well-coached — and championship-winning — teams do.

Catcher - Courtney Howard, sr., Hermiston

The best backstop in the area was Howard, but Pendleton’s Rayne Spencer wasn’t far behind for the top spot on this team.

For me what set Howard apart from Spencer was that Howard keeps people from stealing bases not just one way, but two. Sure, she threw out runners out stealing nine times in 12 attempts, but she also picks them off bases like she’s mad at them for reaching.

While there’s some risk in what she does, the bottom line is she gets it done. She hit .355 this season and drove in 13 runs with 27 hits.

She was a first-team all-Columbia River Conference performer this year and will attend George Fox University in Newberg next fall with plans on continuing her softball career.

First base - Cheyenne Lawson, sr., Hermiston

This is where my toughest decision was. It was between Lawson and Pendleton’s Jory Spencer.

While Spencer was named to the first-team all-CRC team as a utility player, her main position was first base, and she played a great first base, too. Lawson was named to the second-team all-CRC as an infielder.

Since the league coaches didn’t split up first base from the rest of the infield, it’s fairly tough for a first baseman to crack a first-team lineup.

That’s why I split it up on the All-Herald teams. I try my best not to name a bunch of shortstops to the first team. That tends to happens because it’s the glamour position in the infield, which means the other infield spots often are overlooked.

Looking at numbers, Lawson had a better batting average, on-base plus slugging (OPS), more hits, more runs, less strikeouts and a higher fielding percentage than that of Spencer.

Both players are good, but I’ve got to pick one player for this, and it’s Lawson.

Infield - Gracie Flyg, sr., Hermiston; Darian Lindsey, fr., Pendleton; Melina Rodriguez, jr., Hermiston

All three players are fantastic infielders and I feel the best around. Flyg is a steady hitter, Lindsey is the speedster and Rodriguez also puts up explosive offensive numbers.

Flyg hit an astounding .488 this season (42 for 86) with two homers and 11 RBIs. Lindsey hit .458 in her rookie year with 44 hits and Rodriguez hit .385 with three homers.

Defensively, Lindsey had 75 assists while Flyg and Rodriguez eached chimed in with 36 and 34, respectively.

Outfield - Maloree Moss, sr., Hermiston; Reeghan Lehnert, so., Pendleton; Shea Lindsey, sr., Pendleton

Tough to find a better outfield crew than this trio. All three of them make it tough for opposing hitters to find an exposed grassy spot in for base hits to fall.

While her average dipped a little bit from last season, Moss was still Hermiston’s leader, like she was in volleyball and basketball. She tied for the team lead with four doubles and led the team in plate appearances with 101 and was the only regular started to not commit an error.

Lehnert and Lindsey each hit higher than .300 and combined to steal 20 bases for the Bucks this season.

Designated player - Paige Long, jr, Hermiston

Long’s power numbers fell off a little from last season, but she still raked for a .392 average and hit a team-high six home runs and drove in 22 runs, also a team-high.

She was a first-team all-CRC designated player and will probably be moved to an infield spot for her senior season if Megann Galloway-Cooley re-asserts herself as the pitching ace for the Bulldogs.

Utility - Megan Bailey, so., Echo/Stanfield

Bottom line, Bailey was one of the main reasons the Cougars made the program’s first-ever postseason appearance.

She led her team with a .456 batting average, 38 hits, 24 runs scored, 16 doubles and pitched 108 innings with a 1.23 ERA. She played numerous infield positions as well, making her a true utility player.

Have your own picks? Let Billy know by e-mailing him at bgates@hermistonherald.com.

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