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2017 SOFTBALL PREVIEW: Gahr looking for third straight league title, Norwalk going for a repeat

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

After falling in the semifinals and quarterfinals of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section divisional playoffs in consecutive seasons, Gahr High is anxious to get to the finals and win it all with yet another experienced team. Norwalk High had a historic season in 2016 and is the favorite to win the Suburban League again while Cerritos High figures to be in thick of the league race with a new coach. The window of opportunity to make the postseason is closing fast for John Glenn High while Artesia High, Valley Christian High and Whitney High will all field squads with more younger players than experienced, upperclassmen talent.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS

5-11 overall last season, 2-10 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place

Head coach: Dayna Feenstra (fourth season, 18-38)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 36-84

Last time made the playoffs: 1992

Key losses: Isabel Matamores, Ali Vega

Projected lineup:

P-Destinee Alvarez (SR)/Brenda Duran (SO)/Michaela Benzor-Smith (SR)/Lani Pati (FR)

C-Alyssa Medina (SR)/Beautiena Mataele (SO)

1B-Duran/Pati/Charlene Fregoso (FR)

2B-Alyssa Rios (SR)

3B-Duran/Pati/Fregoso

SS-Natalie Luna (SO)

OF-Miranda Williams (JR)

OF-Camryn Thompson (FR)

OF-Mataele

One of the problems that was facing head coach Dayna Feenstra last season was her inconsistency in the lineup she brought out each and every game. Every game she would have a different starting nine. This season, Feenstra will have more consistency in lineup with the only major change being who will be playing at the corners.

“Last season was definitely a letdown,” Feenstra said. “We had high expectations like we do this year. I just think being inexperienced; a little young, that’s what hurt us. I don’t think there was a point where I thought we were done for the rest of the season. Every game, all the way to the end, I had hope that we were going no matter who we played. It just didn’t happen that way.”

Artesia was young last season but the freshmen proved early on that there is potential on the horizon for a program that has the second longest playoff drought in the league. Sophomore infielders Brenda Duran and Natalie Luna have power and along with senior second baseman Alyssa Rios, the Pioneers could surprise some people. Luna batted .429 last season and Duran .359. Senior catcher Alyssa Medina (.293) is one of the best in the league but doesn’t get the credit she deserves.

“The freshmen that are coming, they all have experience,” Feenstra said. “Some are playing travel, some had played but for other reasons they’re not playing this year. But we finally have a good freshmen class who have that experience that we’ve been looking for.”

The ace of the pitching staff will once again be senior Destinee Alvarez with senior Michaela Benzor-Smith as an experienced backup. Since they are seniors, Feenstra is preparing for the future with Duran and freshman Lani Pati also getting some time in the circle.

If Artesia’s strength last season was the top and middle of the lineup, then the downfall was at the bottom. This season, with more consistency in the lineup, Feenstra expects better things from her entire lineup.

“Our lineup before, seven, eight, nine really struggled,” Feenstra said. “I can count maybe on one hand how many hits they got just in terms of being inexperienced. It’s not their fault. They were going against kids who are playing travelball, who have these Division I scholarships, and these kids are only playing high school.

“So my freshmen coming in have high expectations,” Feenstra continued. “My sophomores are playing like juniors and seniors having that maturity level. So our lineup is a little bit thicker. We’re expecting the seven and eight to produce more of those hits.”

The Pioneers will be wearing warm-up shirts that read, “If you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful”. That was written by Eric Thomas, an inspirational speaker who once went to Michigan State University, which is Feenstra’s alma mater. That quote is the type of motivation that could land Artesia into the playoffs.

“We’re definitely going to challenge for the playoffs,” Feenstra said. “Actually, on our practice shirts this we have the day of the first CIF game [May 18, 2017]. So that is going to be our goal. We have the ability. As long as mentally stay there…we’re really looking forward to this season.”

CERRITOS LADY DONS

11-15-1 overall last season, 7-5 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to Don Lugo 10-0 in the Division 3 first round playoffs

Head coach: Kim Ensey (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 82-45-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Key loss: Alyssa Flores

Projected lineup:

P-Jennifer Morinishi (JR)/Camryn McInerney (SR)

C-Celeste Borza (SR)/Alyanna Hernandez (JR)

1B-Kiara Crockett-Pope (JR)

2B-Nikki Ibarra (SO)

3B-Destiny Lucero (SR)

SS-Lailoni Mayfield (SR)

OF-Elise Gibbs (SO)

OF-Essence Gibbs (FR)

OF-Kristina Mendez (SO)/McInerney/Sidney Arevalo (SO)

After winning the Suburban League in consecutive seasons, the Lady Dons stumbled last season to fourth place, their worst finish since 2010. Out is Joseph Webber as head coach and coming in is Kim Ensey, the program’s fourth in the past five seasons. Ensey was hired last in 2016 and has previously coached at Edison High, Santa Fe High and Orange Coast College.

“I’m really excited to be here at Cerritos,” Ensey said. “I love the area. I’m familiar with a lot of the travelball teams and rec leagues and stuff from the area and I’ve always been really admiring of everybody around the school.”

Ensey admitted that she only knew of the Cerritos program through what she would see in the CIF rankings but also knew they had been strong and would also go through ups and downs like any other program. She also knew senior third baseman Destiny Lucero from her travelball team. What Ensey inherits is an experienced team that will give Norwalk, La Mirada High and Mayfair High a run for their money for the league’s top spot. Junior pitcher Jennifer Morinishi will once again be the ace in the circle and is getting stronger and stronger each game she pitches.

“She’s a little bulldog lefty pitcher who throws pretty hard surprisingly for her size,” Ensey said. “She has great movement and commands the field, so I’ve been really impressed with watching her.”

Another key player is senior catcher Celeste Borza, who sat out the majority of last season due to an injury. The Lady Dons missed her power and her defensive skills last season, but the University of Texas, San Antonio commit figures to be a major force with her bat and her mouth.

“Vocally she leads the field,” Ensey said of Borza. “Her work on the field motivates her teammates. Her knowledge of the game is very, very good for her age and she’ll be one of our leaders this year.”

The infield is as solid as it gets while the outfield will be a platoon of whoever is hitting at that present time, according to Ensey. Senior Camryn McInerney and sophomores Elise Gibbs and Kristina Mendez are the returning outfielders but did not hit for a lot of power last season.

“It’s really good coming in knowing that there’s some high caliber talent here and it’s infectious through the team,” Ensey said. “They all work really hard and they all play at a really high level because of the group that surrounds them.”

GAHR LADY GLADIATORS

24-6-2 overall last season, 10-0 in the San Gabriel Valley League, first place, lost to Redondo Union 5-4 in the Division 3 quarterfinal playoffs

Head coach: Shawn Quarles (fifth season, 76-39-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 84-56-2

Last time missed the playoffs: 2013

Key losses: Alyssa Cuffia, Alyssa Rodriguez

Projected lineup:

P-Danielle Martinez (JR)/Hannah Kumiyama (SO)/Vanessa Foreman (JR)

C-Alyssa Kumiyama (SR)/Madison Huskey (JR)

1B-Malia Quarles (SR)/Jade Wittman (JR)/Johanna Rodriguez (FR)

2B-Giselle Tapia (SO)/Irene Dorado (SO)

3B-Paloma Usquiano (SO)/Quarles/Rachel Loranger (JR)

SS-Dejanae Davis (JR)/Usquiano

OF-Jazmine Hill (SO)

OF-Huskey

OF-Ariell Romero (FR)

Another successful season ended with another late inning crushing loss in the playoffs. The Lady Gladiators had the hitting once again, batting .363 as a team, and had the pitching (2.13 team earned run average) to bring the school a CIF-SS championship. But it wasn’t in the cards. This season, head coach Shawn Quarles is banking on his lone two seniors and his 10 returning players to finally get to the promise land.

“In this game, you’ve got to have a little bit of luck sometimes,” Quarles said. “We felt really good going into that game and we were ahead going into the last inning. One pitch can make a difference. There were a lot of opportunities that we had to finish out that game and we didn’t. But that’s the nature of softball. I’ve been on the winning part of that and the losing part of that. But it was a great season.”

Junior Danielle Martinez shined as a sophomore last season as the top pitcher with over 113 innings of work done. She went 14-5 and struck out 128 batters. She’ll be complimented by sophomore Hannah Kumiyama and junior Vanessa Foreman, a transfer from Lakewood High. Quarles said it will be pitching by committee this season with Foreman the southpaw pitcher and Martinez the righty.

A big blow early on this season is a hip injury to junior shortstop Dejanae Davis, who is expected to be out six weeks. Davis led the team with a .506 average last season. Until she comes back, sophomore Paloma Usquiano moves from third base to shortstop with senior Malia Quarles going back to third and first base being held down by junior Jade Wittman. In addition, sophomore left fielder Jazmine Hill will be the leadoff hitter.

“Whenever you lose a player like DJ, it’s huge,” Shawn Quarles said. “She’s been my leadoff [hitter] the last two years and my shortstop for the last two years. She’s one of the fastest girls in Southern California in softball. So, it’s definitely a loss, but we just want to make sure she gets better and gets 100 percent before her senior year.”

The heart and soul of the team continues to be Malia Quarles (.386, 17 runs batted in) and senior catcher Alyssa Kumiyama (.494, 41 hits, 28 RBI, nine doubles, six home runs), who will flip-flop between the third and fourth spot in the lineup. This is their last chance to win a divisional championship.

“I’m sure there is pressure because they want to do it,” Shawn Quarles said. “This is their last chance to do it. But these girls are realistic; they know the game of softball. They’ve been playing this game since they were six years old. You win some, you lose some.”

Sophomore second baseman Giselle Tapia batted .339 while junior center fielder Madison Huskey and Usquiano each batted .329. Six returning players batted over .300 last season and five returning players had over 10 RBI. Shawn Quarles says the team is improved because the pitching is older while hitting is right there where it was last year. As far as the San Gabriel Valley League is concerned, the Lady Gladiators will get the same competition coming from Downey High and Warren High.

“I haven’t heard or seen anything [about them],” Shawn Quarles said. “Both of those programs are always going to be competitive. At Warren, [head coach] Mary [Starksen] is always going to put together a team that can beat us at any given time.”

JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES

10-13 overall last season, 4-8 in the Suburban League, fifth place

Head coach: David Cruz (second season, 10-13)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 44-71

Last time made the playoffs: 1990

Key losses: Destiny Enriquez, Erika Espinoza, Alyssa Fajardo

Projected lineup:

P-Ashley Armas (SR)/Alize Lopez (SR)

C-Devany Esparza (SR)/Adriana Vargas (SO)/Dayna Gomez (FR)

1B-Maria Enriquez (SR)

2B-Destiny Rangel (SR)/Emily Gramajo (JR)

3B-Daisy Vargas (SR)/Armas

SS-Dalia Morones (SO)

OF-Vargas, D./Lopez/Melissa Fernandez (JR)

OF-Vargas, A./Savannah Pineda (SO)/Fernandez

OF-Christina Shryock (JR)

After falling one spot short of qualifying for the playoffs for five straight seasons, the window of opportunity is closing faster and faster for the Lady Eagles, who have the longest playoff drought in the Suburban League. Head coach Davis Cruz is hoping there is still enough in the tank this season to end that drought.

“We finished in fifth place, we had an outstanding pitcher [but] we just lacked the defense behind her when the plays that counted needed to be made,” Cruz said. “It just seemed like when the crucial plays had to made, we weren’t making them and we ended up losing by narrow margins. It was the typical game for us and it was frustrating because I really thought we should have been a playoff team.”

Gone is four-year varsity pitcher Destiny Enriquez, who is now at Bethune-Cookman University. Now taking over the leading role in the circle is senior Ashley Armas with senior Alize Lopez as her backup. Armas appeared in five games last season and struck out 16 batters in 18 innings of work.

“Ashley has become our leader,” Cruz said. “She was our leader last year. Even though she wasn’t officially our captain. She led all of the drills, she led all of the meetings. She’s a natural leader, and she’s been playing travelball all offseason. So, she should be the girl we look to lead us this year.”

The last chance for this program to make some noise comes now because of the number of seniors and experience the team has. Senior catcher Devany Esparza led the team in hitting (.444, 11 RBI, three home runs) with senior first baseman Maria Enriquez (.425, 17 hits) and Armas (.424) right behind her. The infield will be even stronger with senior second baseman Destiny Rangel, senior third baseman Destiny Rangel, who moves from the outfield and up and coming sophomore shortstop Dalia Morones.

“They are providing the leadership that we need to go in the right direction for this program,” Cruz said of his seniors. “But losing these seniors after this year, it’s going to be rebuilding after this. We’re trying to keep some underdeveloped players on the team so they can get the experience and understand what the pitching is like rather than play [on the junior varsity team] and not get a look at all.”

The outfield is very young with junior Christina Shryock as the only one with varsity experience. Still, the Lady Eagles have to make a push now to get one of the top four spots, or do well enough to where they can end the regular season with a winning record, then have a chance to get into the playoffs as an at-large representative.

“I would like to think so and every year that I’ve coached, I’d like to think we’re going to make the playoffs,” Cruz said of his chances. “But I have to be realistic. I’m looking at what we did last year. We weren’t real successful when the game was on the line and I have doubts that they’re going to fall into the same rut.”

NORWALK LADY LANCERS

15-10 overall last season, 9-3 in the Suburban League, tied for first place, lost to Burroughs/Burbank 4-0 in nine innings in the Division 3 quarterfinal playoffs

Head coach: Paulette Gasporra (10th season over two stints, 125-98)

Team’s record previous five season: 60-62

Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

Key losses: Briana Lopez, Serena Nicolas, Samantha Ontiveros, Kathleen Perez

Projected lineup:

P-Breanna Vasquez (JR)/Samantha Navarrete (SR)/Destanie Cervantes (FR)/Angelina Perez (FR)

C-Samantha Campos (SO)/Mercedes Orozco (SR)

1B-Ashley Ponce (SR)/Jennifer Nuno (SO)/Angelina Perez (FR)

2B-Orozco/Campos/Yulissa Zavala (SO)

3B-Navarrete

SS-Brianna Nunez (FR)

OF-Jocelyn Rosiles (JR)/Valerie Zavala (JR)

OF-Alejandra De La O (SR)/Cervantes

OF-Natalie Juarez (FR)

In 2007 and again in 2009, head coach Paulette Gasporra coached Norwalk to 19 victories. But the Lady Lancers were bounced out in the second and first rounds respectively. Last season, Norwalk won 15 games, but were tri-Suburban League champions and advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history. Gasporra said she was proud of her team’s accomplishments and is looking forward to another winning season. So, what does the team do as an encore?

“The team has had the experience of competing for the league championship and competing in the quarterfinals,” Gasporra said. “They know it takes hard work and dedication to achieve their goals for the 2017 season. They have the talent to improve on last season’s record. They have put in the hard work and continue to inspire to be the best. They are motivated to achieve more.”

The talk of the league will once again be on junior pitcher Breanna Vasquez, who dazzled those who watcher and played against her. Vasquez had an ERA of 1.13, struck out 231 batters and walked only a dozen last season. She’s also solid with the bat as she hit an even .300. Gasporra says she believes we will see Vasquez with more speed and movement this season.

Senior Mercedes Orozco, who received a scholarship from Marymount California University, moves from second base to become one of the two catchers while senior Ashley Ponce and senior third baseman Samantha Navarrete continue to be the cornerstones of the infield. Senior Alejandra De La O and junior Valerie Zavala are the lone returning outfielders.

Even though the Lady Lancers graduated seven players from the 2016 team, Gasporra says that’s not a concern. Instead she sees this season as more of an enthusiasm for the opportunity for the younger players to fill important roles.

“I like what I have seen in the preseason,” she says. “I am excited to see our players step onto the field and play. The players are unified in accomplishing our team goals for the 2017 season.

Gasporra believes this team has what it takes to make another run for the league championship. As always, the league will be very competitive, so the Lady Lancers knows they will have to take the season pitch by pitch, inning by inning and game by game to get to where they want to be, according to Gasporra.

VALLEY CHRISTIAN LADY CRUSADERS

4-19 overall last season, 3-5 in the Olympic League, third place, lost to Lakeside 11-4 in the Division 4 wild card playoffs

Head coach: Nicole McGahey (second season, 4-19)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 56-71-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Key losses: Anna Collier, Chanel Varney

Projected lineup:

P-Katie Morewood (SO)/Caitlyn Azevedo (FR)

C-Kyla Nunez-O’Leary (SO)/Kate Van Kampen (FR)

1B-Moriah Easley(JR)/Morewood

2B-Jessica Maxwell (SR)Morgan McGahey (SO)

3B-Kylie Carr (SR)

SS-Azevedo/Van Kampen

OF-Alexandria Burgess-Allen (SO)/Kayla Hoxie (JR)

OF-Angie Pool (FR)

OF-Gemma Bulthuis (FR)/Burgess-Allen

It’s very rare to see a four-win team advance to the playoffs, but that’s what happened to head coach Nicole McGahey in her first season with the Lady Crusaders. The team was very young but still had a couple of veteran leaders that helped get V.C, to third place in the Olympic League and that automatic playoff berth. Now, the returning players have already taken leadership roles and the team has welcomed four freshmen.

“Last season started off with just us gelling together and learning how to work together,” McGahey said. “It was a rough start and we played some schools that were above our caliber at the moment. But I was really proud of our girls throughout the season. We grew as a team and my goal is every time these girls get on the field for them to get better.”

The pitching staff is somewhat new, even though sophomore Katie Morewood got some limited time behind the graduated Anna Collier. Senior Kylie Carr is a solid third baseman while junior Moriah Easley moves from the outfield to first base. McGahey is eager to see her daughter, Morgan, return to action at second base. She was injured in the third game and had a concussion which forced her to miss most of the season.

“I would say that our chemistry this season is so much better than even at the end of the season last year because these girls have played together in middle school,” Nicole McGahey said. “They’re just united already. All of the freshmen coming in, they’re not too high on the horse. They know that they’re coming in as freshmen and they have a little bit to learn. So, they’re willing and open and I love that about them.”

WHITNEY LADY WILDCATS

11-13 overall last season, 4-4 in the Academy League, tied for second place, lost to Desert 8-2 in the Division 6 wild card playoffs

Head coach: Luis Lavayen (12th season, 86-94)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 48-46

Last time missed the playoffs: 2015

Key losses: Melissa Babiera, Jenna Llamas

Projected lineup:

P-Taylor Genera (SO)/Ashley Iseri (SR)

C-Karen Kaur (SR)

1B-Janessa Alderete (JR)

2B-Heather Choe (JR)/Valarie Villegas (SO)

3B-Haley Acosta (SO)

SS-Iseri

OF-Katerin Joachin (JR)/Grace Im (FR)/Angelica Luza (SO)/Susana Toscano (FR)

OF-Jocelyn Chou (SR)

OF-Villegas

To say that Whitney had an interesting 2016 season is an understatement. Head coach Luis Lavayen saw the immediate emergence of a freshman pitcher, Taylor Genera, who set school records for strikeouts in a season for a freshman as well as a single season. Then the Lady Wildcats, by virtue of a forfeit, got into the playoffs, only to see a pair of seniors miss the game because they were on a senior retreat. Still, it was the type of season that the program can build off of.

“Taylor, a number one pitcher now, brings a lot of confidence to the team,” Lavayen said. “It made it a little easier knowing that we can win some games. This year, we’re hoping with the infield we have and Taylor pitching, we can keep it nice. We should give [teams] a battle.”

Genera figures to be a workhorse again; she pitched around 130 innings last season. But when she needs a rest, then senior Ashley Iseri will fill in. Iseri led the team with a .722 average, drove in 40 runs and hit three home runs.

“She’s such a good kid; a good player,” Lavayen said. “Most of all, she does what she’s asked to do. She brings in a lot of knowledge from playing for so many years. She helps me out a lot. Sometimes she tells me what to do. One day she’ll be a great coach.”

Senior Karen Kaur began her Whitney career at shortstop, then moved to third base before finishing last season behind the plate. Kaur batted .233 last season but her leadership skills have been growing and she’s adjusting very well to becoming the full-time catcher.

“This is the type of player who doesn’t mind to do whatever she’s asked to do,” Lavayen said. “And she knows we need her there, so she’s going to go there. She’s working hard and Taylor is letting her know little tips of what to do and what not to do.”

Outside of Genera, Iseri and Kaur, the offense struggles a bit last season. Expect to see more offense coming from junior second baseman Heather Choe and junior left fielder Katerin Joachin. Those two, plus sophomore third baseman Haley Acosta have moved from the outfield which means the new outfielders must learn how to gel with the rest of the team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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