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2013 SOFTBALL PREVIEW: Area to be dominated by young talent again

By Loren Kopff

A softball.

A softball. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last season saw an influx of freshmen to several area teams and the results were mixed. This season, a lot of youth will be served again with even higher expectations to win a league title, or even more. Gahr, John Glenn and Norwalk will have new coaches while Cerritos is hoping to rebound from a late season collapse. Artesia remains up and coming and Valley Christian aims for another Olympic League crown with a new pitching staff. Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS (8-17 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place)

Head coach: Jeff Hovis (second season, 8-17)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 19-75

Last time made the playoffs: 1992

Key losses: Natalie Estela, Emily Franco, Jeslynne Roberts

Projected lineup:

P-Dominique Moran (SR)/Sarah Guerrero (SO)/Marlena Murguia (SR)

C-Kira Ito (SR)/Briana Perez (SO)

1B-Jessica Alcala (SR)/Marissa Chavez (SR)/Ali Vega (FR)

2B-Guerrero/Moran/Brandy Palate (FR)/Kelsey Tutt (JR)

3B-Ito/Sabrina Manzano (JR)/Tutt

SS-Guerrero/Murguia/Palate

OF-Crystal Briseno (SO)

OF-Dominique Gonzales (SR)

OF-Bianca Espinoza (SR)/Alondra Hernandez (JR)/Sydney Salazar (JR)/Tutt/Vega

It was somewhat of a breakthrough season for the Pioneers under new head coach Jeff Hovis last season. Artesia won more games in a season in well over 15 years but still, the Pioneers finished in last place in the Suburban League for the fourth straight season and hasn’t won a league game since 2008.

“Disappointed, not upset, is a better way to look at that,” Hovis said of last season. “The fact [was] the girls and their grades kind of hurt. The girls and their actions of being out here kind of hurt. But I felt it was okay, not a big deal, because I had the whole summer and winter in front of us. This has been my first year [here] and there is a huge difference in the attitudes of the girls. Right now, it’s a different attitude.”

For the first time in quite some time, the Pioneers will have depth in a lot of positions, starting with the pitching. Senior Dominique Moran had a decision in all but one game last season. When Moran isn’t in the circle, she is a candidate to play second base.

“The depth behind Dominique is huge because they don’t have to rely on her all of the time,” Hovis said. “She knows she can come in under pressure and pitch when she needs to. She’s working hard.”

Senior catcher Kira Ito returns after an injury plagued season limited her to playing shortstop or being the designated player. Hovis said that sophomore catcher Briana Perez is slated to play more time behind the plate. Senior first baseman Jessica Alcala returns after a one-year absence and the team will have tremendous speed in the outfield, anchored by senior center fielder Dominique Gonzalez, who batted .348 last season. Senior right fielder Bianca Espinoza is a transfer from Cerritos but won’t become eligible until the league season begins. Freshman Brandy Palate is the leading candidate to start at shortstop.

While Artesia may be getting better, so is the rest of the Suburban League, thus putting more pressure on the Pioneers reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1992.

“We’ll see where it ends up,” Hovis said. “They’re still young, they’re still growing and the school is just now getting used to having a full-time person out here all the time. I’m real excited about [this season]. I’m anxious to get started but I’m still skeptical because we still have the three big dogs and I’m hearing rumors about how good Norwalk is. There’s nobody in our league that’s a pushover.”

CERRITOS LADY DONS (18-7 overall last season, 9-3 in the Suburban League, tied for second place, lost to Oxnard 2-1 in the Division II first round)

Head coach: Bob Medina (fifth season, 54-46)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 60-65

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Key losses: Alex Avila, Drianna Drulias, Bianca Espinoza, Alyssa Marquez, Sarah Smith

Projected lineup:

P-Jennifer Iseri (SO)/Kaylilani Minami (SR)/Melanie Okazaki (SO)/Miki Okazaki (SR)

C-Heather Cameron (SO)/Megan Darling (SO)/Jasmine Javier (JR)/Madison Lee (SO)

1B-Kaitlyn Bales (SO)/Iseri/Minami/Miki Okazaki

2B-Lilianna Herrera (JR)/Amanda Lejano (SO)/Melanie Okazaki/Leeann Tran (SO)

3B-Erin Clinton (SR)/Lee

SS-Darling/Melanie Okazaki

OF-Darling/Rebecca Maldonado (FR)

OF-Alyssa Flores (FR)/Justina Peko (SO)

OF-Bales/Herrera/Javier

The Lady Dons were steamrolling through the 2012 season and had one loss overall through their first 14 games before things went south. Cerritos ended the season on a four-game losing streak, including a sweep by league champion La Mirada. But head coach Bob Medina’s team is once again stacked and even has more depth in every position than last season. However, Medina said one of the keys for this season is for the team to close games. Cerritos lost a 4-0 third inning lead at La Mirada and a 3-0 home lead to Mayfair.

“You learn by experience and what happened last year, I don’t think it’s going to happen this year,” Medina said. “I think the kids are more motivated, more determined to do better. I don’t dwell on the past; I never have. It’s over with. It’s a new season and I’m excited about it.”

The pitching still remains the same with sophomore Jennifer Iseri and her 1.58 earned run average and 132 strikeouts leading the way. Iseri is also the team’s returning leading hitter (.467, four home runs).

“Everybody looks at Jennifer as, ‘wow, what a phenomenal player’, which she is,” Medina said. “But she still is going to have that year to grow and she’s a sophomore. Everybody doesn’t look at that. I think she has higher numbers to put on the board for anything and to achieve because she is a sophomore. Everybody has to remember that-she is a sophomore. But she plays like a senior.”

Sophomore Heather Cameron is the top catcher but junior Jasmine Javier and sophomores Megan Darling and Madison Lee are more than capable backups.

Second base is also a log jam with junior Liliana Herrera, who batted .392 last season, as the most likely starter. But sophomores Amanda Lejano and Leeann Tran will give Herrera some serious competition. The biggest change comes from the left side of the infield where senior Erin Clinton moves from shortstop to third base.

“Every other year, you want to get a good crop of freshmen in,” Medina said. “You don’t want them every year because then you have too many kids. But every year we try to bring up a couple others so you do have the youth.”

Medina will be looking for his second league title in three seasons and if the last week of last season decided the league championship, then this season’s league opener in late March could set the tone when the Lady Dons open up their league slate against La Mirada.

“We’re kind of the underdog because everyone who comes out to our program makes our program,” Medina said. “But look at what we’ve done with those kids.”

GAHR GLADIATORS (8-17 overall last season, 4-6 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fourth place)

Head coach: Shawn Quarles (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 50-82

Last time made the playoffs: 2009

Key losses: Kayla Alves, Irma DeLeon, Jessica Morales, Alyssa Nava, Krystal Purkey, Maya Varela

Projected lineup:

P-Deidra Genera (SO)/Vanessa Montanez (SO)/Mel Varela (JR)

C-Brianna Besenty (SO)/Alyssa Cuffia (FR)/Kristen Redaja (FR)

1B-Celeste Gonzalez (SO)

2B-Erika Balboa (JR)/Cuffia

3B-Genera/Gonzalez/Montanez/Erika Espinosa (FR)

SS-Deja Portillo (SO)

OF-Alexis Gonzalez (SR)

OF-Balboa

OF-Liandra Gonzalez (SR)

For the third straight season, Gahr struggled with a plethora of injuries and discipline issues and finished in the bottom half of the San Gabriel Valley League again. Out is Mike Rogers and in is new head coach Shawn Quarles, who along with his brother, Joseph, now takes over a squad that is still young but very capable of finishing in the top three in the league.

“We’re from the travel ball world, so there are a lot of nuances that we have to get used to,” Quarles said. “We’re excited about the team spirit and the stuff that goes along with high school ball.

“Sometimes the girls have to buy in and see the new look,” he later added. “The program just has to be reinvigorated every once in awhile. I am an alumnus of Gahr-me and my whole family-so we definitely have a vested interest in bringing some pride back to the program.”

Although young, the pitching staff is strong with veteran junior Mel Varela and sophomores Deidra Genera and Vanessa Montanez. Genera is also a strong hitter and batted .353 as a freshman, tops of all returning players with at least 20 at-bats. Sophomore catcher Brianna Besenty, who missed last season because of an injury, is the leading candidate behind the plate while the infield is rock solid with junior second baseman Erica Balboa, sophomore third baseman Celeste Gonzalez (.344) and sophomore shortstop Deja Portillo (.333).

“This team has really good chemistry and is a very talented team,” Quarles said. “When we field nine, there will be nine really quality players. We’re real excited actually.”

The other newcomers to the Gladiators are seniors Taylor Choyce, Bianca Meneses and freshmen Alyssa Cuffia, Erica Espinoza, Kristen Redaja and Alyssa Rodriguez. While Gahr’s last trip to the playoffs was in 2009, it advanced to the quarterfinals in 2007 and 2008.

“If everything goes right and if our pitching stays healthy, I think we can compete with [Downey and Warren] this year,” Quarles said. “I know I’m pretty familiar with those teams. But I’m definitely making it a goal to make the playoffs. I don’t want to sell us short because this is a good team. We have good hitters and good skilled position players.”

JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES (5-18 overall last season, 3-9 in the Suburban League, tied for fifth place)

Head coach: Albert Enriquez (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 25-84

Last time made the playoffs: 1990

Key losses: Desiree Hindman, Denise Ponce, Victoria Robledo, Lorin Zertuche

Projected lineup:

P-Destiny Enriquez (FR)/Jocelyn Galvez (SR)

C-Denise Miranda (SR)/Jessica Wallace (JR)

1B-Jacqueline Leon (SR)

2B-Galvez/Marina Ramirez (SR)

3B-Alyssa Fajardo (FR)/Jackie Mojica (SO)

SS-Valeria Ortega (JR)

OF-Brenda Lopez (SR)/Yasmine Rojas (JR)

OF-Miranda

OF-Gabby Cruz (SR)

It was more of the same for John Glenn which stumbled after producing consecutive eight-win seasons. Now, Albert Enriquez takes over as the program’s new head coach and although he has never coached at the high school level before, he has experience being with teams from the Strike Force and USA Athletics travel ball programs. Enriquez also graduated from Glenn in 1991, a season after the school’s last trip to the playoffs.

“It’s a great opportunity to coach high school softball,” Enriquez said. “My daughter is a freshman; she’s a pitcher on this team. That’s kind of why I took the job. I’m trying to build the program here.”

The Lady Eagles will start a freshman in the circle as Enriquez’ daughter, Destiny, will get the chance over returning senior Jocelyn Galvez. Albert Enriquez said his daughter doesn’t get rocked and even if the bases are loaded, she’ll still bring the heat. Junior catcher Jessica Wallace, a varsity newcomer, will get the bulk of the time behind the plate as the experienced Denise Miranda, will move to center field.

Another major move is junior Valeria Ortega, who was in the outfield last season but is now the new shortstop. Senior right fielder Gabby Cruz is the anchor of the outfield and covers a lot of ground.

The new coach says expectations for this season are going to be tough in terms of league placing. He did say that he expects the team to be disciplined and is making sure the players and the program move forward.

“I think that everybody out there is equal,” Enriquez said. “We have a good group of kids here and I think they need a little coaching and some motivation. I can’t judge the previous coaches but from my experience and my approach, it’s teaching them the basics and getting them motivated. We have some good athletes here.”

NORWALK LADY LANCERS (10-16 overall last season, 6-6 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to Chaffey 6-3 in the Division II wild card)

Head coach: Antonia Aguirre (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 67-68

Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

Key losses: Michelle Holguin, Ilene Vasquez, Vanessa Venegas

Projected lineup:

P-Amanda Benas (JR)/Martha Camacho (JR)/Serena Nicolas (FR)/Destiny Vasquez (SO)

C-Crystal Cano (SR)/Samantha Lujan (JR)

1B-Camacho

2B-Jazmin Guzman (SO)

3B-Cano/Jennifer Vasquez (JR)

SS-Destiny Vasquez/Jennifer Vasquez

OF-Kathleen Perez (FR)

OF-Viviana Gomez (JR)

OF-Elizabeth Gutierrez (SR)/Briana Lopez (FR)

After coaching at Rancho Alamitos for the past three seasons, Antonia Aguirre takes over a Norwalk program that is just aching to do some serious damage at the top of the Suburban League. The Lady Lancers won a share of the league in 2009 but has finished in fourth place since then, despite fielding teams full of talent.

“We came to Norwalk not knowing what we had and we have quite a few quality girls which we’re happy to be here with,” Aguirre said. “I have the same [assistant] coach that I had three years ago and we’re excited about this year because I think we can do some damage in the league this year.”

Unlike previous seasons, Norwalk is well stocked with pitching but the ace of the staff is sophomore Destiny Vasquez, who had a 2.61 earned run average as a freshman. Vasquez was also the team’s second leading hitter with a .462 average.

“Destiny is all-around,” Aguirre said. “She can hit, she can field, she can pitch, she can run and is smart on the bases.”

A lot of talk last season was on junior catcher Samantha Lujan, who batted .373 and led the team with a dozen triples. She is slated to be the leading catcher with senior Crystal Cano as the backup. Both Cano and Lujan each made three errors last season.

The infield is one of the best in the league, headlined by sophomore second baseman Jazmin Guzman, the team’s leading hitter from last season at a .512 clip. The leader of the outfield is junior center fielder Viviana Gomez, who drove in 13 runs last season.

While the talk of the league is still centered on Cerritos, La Mirada and Mayfair, this season’s Norwalk’s squad definitely has the ability to knock off one or more of those teams and crack the top three in the standings.

“I think we can compete with all of those teams,” Aguirre said. “We’re not a fourth place team. There’s no way. We told these girls we’re not a fourth place team. I don’t see why we can’t finish first or second.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN LADY CRUSADERS (18-9 overall last season, 8-0 in the Olympic League, first place, lost to Kaiser 5-3 in the Division IV quarterfinals)

Head coach: Jim Snyder (third season, 32-22)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 68-60-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Key losses: Brianna Dupuy, McKenzie Goff, Kelsey Hughes, Hannah Prewitt, Vanessa Sanchez, Ashley Snyder

Projected lineup:

P-Anna Collier (FR)/Heaven Garcia (SR)

C-Taylor Winters (SR)

1B-Megan Collier (SR)

2B-Leanne Garrels (SR)/Chanel Varney (FR)

3B-Varney

SS-Emily Morrow (SO)

OF-Nicole Parker (SO)

OF-Madison Wright (SO)

OF-Garcia

Valley Christian head coach Jim Snyder guided the Lady Crusaders to their first undefeated Olympic League campaign since 2006 and the team’s second league title in three seasons. But now comes the reality of beginning the season with seven returning players. An eighth player, senior Madison Garcia who was slated to play at third, is lost for the season with an ACL injury. This will be a younger squad as Snyder says he’s trying to develop some leadership.

“We were pleased and if you measure our success in wins and losses at 18-9, we definitely consider that a successful year,” Snyder said of last season. “We try to have a broader definition of success over here at Valley than just the wins and losses. But in that regard, it was a successful year.”

The Lady Crusaders will feature two new pitchers in freshman Anna Collier and senior Heaven Garcia with the former getting the nod as the number one hurler. Snyder says Collier throws a bit harder and is more of a straight-forward pitcher while Garcia has lower velocity but puts in an incredible amount of spin on the ball and is able to hit her spots.

The infield is strong with senior second baseman Leanne Garrels (23 runs batted in last season) and sophomore shortstop Emily Morrow (.357, 33 runs scored last season). Freshman infielder Chanel Varney brings a lot of speed with her while senior catcher Taylor Winters is a solid hitter who can easily break .300 this season. The outfield isn’t as strong as it was last season and sophomore Madison Wright moves from right field to center as she can cover tons of ground. Wright led the Lady Crusaders last season with a .556 average, 40 hits, 33 runs and four doubles.

Snyder knows this will be a tougher season to repeat as league champions. On top of that, his non-league schedule is tougher than last season’s. But there is still enough talent for V.C. to be at the top, or near the top of the league and make a deep run in the playoffs.

“The depth is a serious issue here this year,” Snyder said. “We think we might be able to turn that into a positive. We still have three to four players coming over from soccer who are good athletes.”

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