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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
If the Valley Christian High softball team plans to follow the script of the last few seasons, then the beginning of Olympic League play has come at the right time. Mired in an eight-game losing streak which has seen the Lady Crusaders score seven runs and produce just 23 hits, V.C. broke out of several slumps and blanked Whittier Christian High 6-0 this past Tuesday.
The star of the game, as she has been throughout most of her 24 previous league encounters, was senior pitcher Anna Collier, who faced 23 batters and yielded only two hits. Collier has had a decision in all 25 league games in her high school career and has a league mark of 19-6.
“I get super pumped up for league every year; I get really excited and I think that helps my pitching,” Collier said. “We’re playing teams that are more competitive to our level…and I’m more prepared pitching-wise for league every year.”
“I think she did an amazing job,” said V.C. first-year head coach Nicole McGahey said. “From the time we came out of the locker room, she came out with just her head on straight and also the ability to lead her team in that way. She just really encourages them to lead towards that way. Not only is she out for herself pitching, but she also looks at the whole aspect. Her head was ready, her heart was ready and her body was ready.”
Collier’s only blemishes were a first-pitch lead-off ground rule double to Hailey Gallegos in the top of the second inning and a two-out base hit to Ally Udell in the sixth. Both of those runners would be stranded at third. Collier got 10 groundball outs and struck out three.
Meanwhile, Collier got the only run support she needed in the bottom of the second. Junior center fielder Brianna Lerma singled, stole a pair of bases and came home on a single from freshman first baseman Katie Morewood. It was just the fourth time this season that the Lady Crusaders had scored in either the first or second inning.
The Lady Crusaders (2-12 overall, 1-0 in league) gave Collier more run support in the fourth when junior third baseman Kylie Carr reached on an error and Lerma singled. Morewood’s second single plated Carr and with the bases loaded and two outs, a single to left from freshman catcher Kyla Nunez-O’Leary allowed Lerma to score.
The game was put away in the next frame when sophomore designated player Kayla Hoxie singled and moved to second on an error. After Udell walked senior shortstop Chanel Varney and freshman second baseman Morgan McGahey sacrificed both runners over, a groundout from Carr increased the score to 4-0. Lerma followed with a single, allowing Varney to touch home plate. Through five innings, the Lady Crusaders had seven hits, tying for the most in any game this season. They added two more hits in the sixth as Collier and Nunez-O’Leary added to the hit parade.
“I think what we did is we went back to basics in practice,” Nicole McGahey said. “We started going back to the very beginning of hitting stages and re-teaching and recalculating and readjusting. The girls finally just made that switch in their mind.
“I think offensively, they came out with a different mindset,” she later added. “Once somebody hit it, the next one couldn’t wait to jump on the hitting train. I just think it was really good for our team to have some confidence knowing that they could it. We’ve been shutout so many times [and] it felt good and they all wanted in on it.”
Lerma went three for three while Morewood and Nunez-O’Leary each went two for three and drove in a pair of runs.
“It’s always an advantage being at home,” Collier said. “They challenge me every game. Even with the score [6-0], it was still a hard game to pitch. They have good batters; they’ve been coached well. I wouldn’t say that I have their number at all. I think it just depends on the game.
“Today I definitely felt like I had a strong defense behind me and a strong offense as well,” she continued. “Everything was going well for us today. Today the whole team came out to play, and it showed.”
The slow start isn’t new to the V.C. softball program but sometimes it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Two seasons ago, V.C. began the season at 1-13 before its league opener. In the fourth league game of her sophomore season, Collier baffled the Whittier Christian bats on the road in a 10-2 victory. The Lady Crusaders would go 7-1 in league. Then last season, V.C. began with two wins in its first 12 games and was 7-10 before the league opener. In the previous three seasons, the Lady Crusaders have split the season series with the Heralds.
“We were pumped for the game, we were ready for the game,” Nicole McGahey said. “We’ve done some team-building things off the field lately and I think that has helped us get prepped for today.”
The Lady Crusaders visited Oxford Academy on Apr. 7 and will play a doubleheader at Western High on Saturday. V.C. will then host John Glenn High on Tuesday before returning to league action against Heritage Christian High on Thursday.
“I think we just need to focus on what we did right today,” Collier said. “We need to focus on everything, from the warm-up to our cheers in the dugout…just everything and how that all fit together.”
“My mantra is never too high, never too low,” Nicole McGahey said. “So tomorrow we go back to practice and we keep working at it and we do the things that we did yesterday to get ready for today.”
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