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2018 SOFTBALL PREVIEW : Gahr stacked again with talent to win Division I championship

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

Once again, the 2017 Gahr High softball team had a plethora of talent that most teams would dream of, and the Lady Gladiators put themselves in the best position possible to win a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section divisional championship. But going undefeated in the regular season doesn’t mean anything unless you can win the final softball game. Cerritos High is primed again to win its final Suburban League title while Artesia High is hoping last season wasn’t a one-year wonder.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA LADY PIONEERS

10-9 overall last season, 7-5 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to South Torrance 11-7 in the Division 5 first round playoffs

Head coach: Dayna Feenstra (fifth season, 28-47)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 38-65

Last time missed the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Destinee Alvarez, Alyssa Medina, Alyssa Rios, Michaela Benzor-Smith

Projected lineup:

P-Shelby Hile (FR)/Eliza Carillo (FR)/Shaine Hile (FR)/Valerie Joaquin (SO)

C-Charlene Fregoso (SO)

1B-Brenda Duran (JR)/Leilani Pati (SO)/Shaylin Riddell-Perez (FR)/Fregoso

2B-Zoey Williams (FR)/Natalie Luna (JR)

3B-Joaquin/Duran/Fregoso/Pati

SS-Joaquin/Luna/Williams

OF-Isabel Navarro (FR)/Shelby Hile

OF-Camryn Thompson (SO)/Riddell-Perez

OF-Miranda Williams (SR)

The wait was over for Lady Pioneers, who finally made their first playoff appearance since 1992, and came close to upsetting South Torrance High on the road. Now, Artesia must prove that it can remain a playoff contender as the school departs the Suburban League and moves into the 605 League next season. In fact, throughout last season, the team had the date of the South Torrance game on their warmup shirts as motivation. This season, “Raise The Bar” reads proudly on the back of their shirts as a reminder that higher expectations will be needed to exceed the success of last season.

“Last season was absolutely crucial for our program,” said head coach Dayna Feenstra. “We had the talent and we had the leadership together for the first time in a very long time. Ever since I graduated back in 2003, it was always my mission to make Artesia High softball a competitive program and make it to CIF.”

The seven league wins last season were the most since the combined total from 2008-2016 and the winning record was the first time in over 20 seasons. But as the Lady Pioneers embark on the new campaign, they’ll have to do it with a new and very, very young pitching staff. Freshman Shelby Hile has been tabbed as the number one hurler while a pair of ninth graders will serve as the backups, thus giving the program something to build on for at least the next four seasons. Feenstra says that all four pitchers have their own strengths and that it’s exciting to have multiple options in the pitching rotation.

The infield is solid with junior power hitter Brenda Duran (.439 last season) and freshman Zoey Williams, who Feenstra says is a scrappy player and can hit from both sides of the plate. Sophomore outfielder Camryn Thompson is a speedster who hit over .360 last season while the most improved player is sophomore Charlene Fregoso, who has put in more time and effort in her hitting, conditioning and fielding.

Artesia will participate in the Santa Fe Tournament, the only time it will be on the road outside of league action and will have a total of 12 regular season home games on the docket.

CERRITOS LADY DONS

20-6 overall last season, 11-1 in the Suburban League, league champions, lost to Fullerton 4-2 in the Division 3 quarterfinals

Head coach: Kim Ensey (second season, 20-6)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 84-44-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Key losses: Celeste Borza, Destiny Lucero, Lailoni Mayfield

Projected lineup:

P-Jennifer Morinishi (SR)

C-Alyanna Hernandez (SR)

1B-Kiara Crockett-Pope(SR)

2B-Lauren Lejano (FR)

3B-Alazea Herrera (FR)

SS-Niki Ibarra (JR)

LF-Elise Gibbs (JR)

CF-Essence Gibbs (SO)

RF-Sydney Arevalo (SR)/Kristina Mendez (JR)

For head coach Kim Ensey, last season couldn’t have gone better, except a longer run in the playoffs. The Lady Dons won the Suburban League for the third time in the last four seasons, each time winning 20 games, and advanced to the quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons. Now, the Lady Dons are hoping to have their best stretch of winning league titles since the late 1990s and 2000.

“Last season was about creating a winning culture,” Ensey said. “We only had a short period of time, but I knew that had to be the focus. The players bought in. I brought in a great assistant coach in Adam DeLeon, who brings great balance to my style and the girls respect him. I walked into the program knowing we had the pieces to win but possibly not the depth. There was no selfishness and every player had a team first mentality and did their job for the team. That was the key to our success.”

Carrying the load in the circle was, and remains senior Jennifer Morinishi, who pitched virtually every inning and had a no-hitter against Rio Mesa High.  The big pop in the lineup will come from senior first baseman Kiarra Crockett-Pope, who was second on the team in home runs with five and batted over .400.

According to Ensey, sophomore center fielder Essence Gibbs is the most improved returning player whose development as a player and leader by example have been huge.

“Her confidence at the plate and decision making in the outfield has improved drastically since last season and will be a key to our success this year.”

Junior Niki Ibarra moves from second base to shortstop to make room for freshman Lauren Lejano while senior Sydney Arevalo and junior Kristina Mendez will platoon at right field until one can step up and win the job on a more consistent basis.

“This season’s squad definitely has the talent, but we will need to consistently execute both offensively and defensively to match last season/’s success,” Ensey said. “We are getting stronger with each game and our pre-league schedule is pretty tough. So, I think we will be prepared. We are working hard to get our newcomers into their important roles and developing our team depth.”

GAHR LADY GLADIATORS

26-1 overall last season, 10-0 in the san Gabriel Valley League, league champions, lost to St. Lucy’s 4-2 in the Division 2 second round playoffs

Head coach: Shawn Quarles (sixth season: 102-40-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 102-40-2

Last time missed the playoffs: 2013

Key losses: Alyssa Kumiyama, Hannah Kumiyama (JR), Malia Quarles, Paloma Usquiano (JR)

Projected lineup:

P-Danielle Martinez (JR)/Vanessa Foreman (SR)/Daisy Torres (FR)/Skylar Sanchez (FR)

C-Grace Rivera (FR)/Madison Huskey (SR)

1B-Jade Wittman (SR)/Johanna Rodriguez (SO)

2B-Giselle Tapia (JR)/Irene Dorado (JR)/Sydni Jones (SO)

3B-Taylor Stephens (FR)/Rachel Loranger (SR)

SS-Dejanae Davis (SR)

OF-Jazmine Hill (JR)/Malia Luna (SO)/Jones

OF-Huskey

OF-Ariell Romero (SO)/Kristalyn Romulo (FR)

The best team in the area last season was four wins away from going wire to wire and in turn, capturing the school’s first divisional championship. Head coach Shawn Quarles says he has never been that fired up about being undefeated because, the chances of your next loss is going to be likely. He also felt the team overachieved, even with the losses of senior shortstop Dejanae Davis for virtually the entire season and catcher Alyssa Kumiyama, who tore her ACL late in the season but is already off to a solid start at the University of South Carolina. Quarles also said it was a testament to how the deep the team was.

“It was more disappointing,” Quarles said of last season. “I don’t think we’ve been unlucky; I just think you have to have a little bit of luck. I never blame it on luck that we lost, for sure.”

The Lady Gladiators, who won over 20 games for the third straight season and have moved up to Division I, will have more speed to compensate for the power that was lost from the departures of Kumiyama and Malia Quarles, a pair of .545-plus hitters who combined for 20 homeruns. In fact, Gahr hit .424 as a team and that number could easily go up this season. The left side of the infield is rock solid with senior first baseman Jade Wittman and junior second baseman Giselle Tapia (.469, 12 doubles).

But the strength could very well be in the pitching department where Shawn Quarles believes senior Vanessa Foreman and junior Danielle Martinez are equally number one pitchers instead of a one and two, or even one and 1A. Martinez struck out 98 batters in just over 90 innings and had an earned run average of 1.39 while Foreman, in half a season, struck out 43 in just over 32 innings.

“I think both of my [returning] pitchers have stepped up both of their games,” Shawn Quarles said. “They’re very serious about their work ethic and they’re very serious about this year. I think they’re both very hard to hit.”

Freshman Grace Rivera replaces Alyssa Kumiyama behind the plate while freshman Taylor Stephens fills in the void at third vacated by Malia Quarles, who is now at the University of California, Los Angeles. Davis is slated to be the leadoff hitter and is even faster than she was last season. The Lady Gladiators will be seeking their fifth straight San Gabriel Valley League championship and has reached the semifinals only twice.

“There are a lot of good coaches out there and the staff that we have here is good,” Quarles said. “In any situation when you have success, you have to put it on the back of the girls who do it. We just have good talent and you have to create an environment where good talent wants to come and I think we know how to do that.”

JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES

6-17 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place

Head coach: David Cruz (third season, 16-30)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 45-70

Last time made the playoffs: 1990

Key losses: Ashley Armas, Maria Enriquez, Devany Esparza, Aliza Lopez, Jocelyn Ortiz, Destiny Rangel, Daisy Vargas

Projected lineup:

P-Melissa Fernandez (SR)

C-Emily Gramajo (SR)

1B-Miranda Chaidez (SO)

2B-Darlene Ayala (SR)

3B-Jesse Sun (JR)

SS-Dalia Morones (JR)

OF-Anela Kramer (SO)

OF-Savannah Pineda (JR)

OF-Christina Shryock (SR)

Just when the John Glenn High program was starting to make some waves as far as getting to .500 and possibly get to the playoffs, the Lady Eagles took a few steps backwards last season, failing to get double digit victories for the third straight season and fourth in the last five. Instead, head coach David Cruz saw a team have its worst record since 2012 and its worst league placing since 2011.

“After that terrible accident to our pitcher and our catcher quitting last season, I was able to witness our team’s fighting spirit that kept us in most games and helped us to win a few,” Cruz said.

He was referring to Ashley Armas, who only began the season as the team’s number one pitcher, but had one decision in the last 17 games, and Devany Esparza, who was batting .371 before she quit in early April.

Struggle might be the operative word for this season. Senior Melissa Fernandez moves from the outfield to the circle while senior Emily Gramajo was at second base in 2017 but is now the new catcher. Senior right fielder Christina Shryock, junior shortstop Dalia Morones and junior centerfielder Savannah Pineda are the other returning players who are in the same positions as last season.

Junior Adriana Vargas, another returning player, will be used as a utility player and is one of the three best hitters, according to Cruz, with Gramajo and Morones (.328 last season) being the other two.

“Losing Ashley and Alize (Lopez) to graduation and losing my freshman pitcher this year to grades will hurt us this entire season,” Cruz said. “Melissa Fernandez pitched our first two games and has control issues which results into a lot of walks. She is getting better but will struggle for a while.”

Cruz says the top two newcomers, both sophomores, are first baseman Miranda Chaidez and left fielder Anela Kramer and should be solid players by midseason. He also admitted that it will be hard for his team to win games this season, but that improving is their goal play by play and game by games. Pitching will be Glenn’s biggest issue this season.

NORWALK LADY LANCERS

7-17 overall last season, 4-8 in the Suburban League, fifth place

Head coach: David Gonzalez (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 57-63

Last time made the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Alejandra De La O, Samantha Navarrete, Mercedes Orozco, Ashley Ponce

Projected lineup:

P-Breanna Vasquez (SR)Destanie Cervantes (SO)

C-Estefania Perez (FR)

1B-Angelina Perez (SO)

2B-Samantha Campos (JR)/Yulissa Zavala (JR)

3B-Allison Conrad (FR)/Campos

SS-Brianna Nunez (SO)

OF-Jocelyn Rosiles (SR)

OF-Valerie Zavala (SR)

OF-Natalie Juarez (SO)

David Gonzalez replaces Paulette Gasporra as Norwalk High’s new head coach and although the Lady Lancers have had success in the past, last season’s absence from the postseason was the school’s first since 2010 and third since 2005. Gonzalez previously coached junior varsity softball at Norwalk the past two seasons and before that, three seasons at John Glenn High.

“It’s really exciting because for the better part of the last 10 to 12 years, I’ve actually been coaching in the community,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just exciting. I care about the area, I care about the kids here. So, it’s just really exciting that they’ll give me the opportunity.

“It’s going to be big in just making the girls excited about playing for their home school,” Gonzalez later continued. “We all know that it’s a real big thing to transfer to the powerhouse schools and the schools that are known to be good. And Norwalk has always been good with their own kids; kids from the community.”

The Lady Lancers will only have 11 players, but none is bigger than senior pitcher Breanna Vasquez, who has wowed the rest of the Suburban League since she set foot on the Norwalk campus. She had close to 200 strikeouts and is capable of throwing no-hitters and one-hitters. She also had an ERA of 1.40 last season.

“She’s fantastic,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been watching her from a far. Just being able to know her is just a pleasure because she’s a good kid. It’s always nice to see a Division 1 caliber athlete do what they do. But then when you see the background and know that they’re just fantastic…she’s just pleasant company.”

Backing her up more than last season for preventative measures so that Vasquez doesn’t get hurt will be sophomore Destanie Cervantes. Norwalk will be somewhat young and will need to improve its hitting as the team batted under .200 last season. Sophomore Angelina Pere moves from second to first and is the leading returning hitter (.286). While the Lady Lancers will have speed on the bases, they will be experimenting a lot in non-league. Getting to the playoffs with a roster of 11 will be tougher, especially with the emergence of Artesia and already knowing the league has been historically dominated by Cerritos, La Mirada High and Mayfair High.

“It is a bit of a concern,” Gonzalez said of the small team. “Some girls that were a part of the program previously decided not to come out this year. So, it was a big hit. But we’re going to work around it.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN LADY CRUSADERS

6-15-1 overall last season, 1-7 in the Olympic League, fifth place

Head coach: Nicole McGahey (third season, 10-34-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 44-77-2

Last time made the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Kylie Carr, Jessica Maxwell

Projected lineup:

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

C-Quinn Livesay (FR)

1B-Moriah Easley (SR)/Morewood

2B-Morgan McGahey (JR)

3B-Kyla Nunez-O’Leary (JR)

SS-Kate Van Kampen (SO)/Azevedo

OF-Angie Pool (SO)/Alexandria Burgess-Allen (JR)

OF-Gemma Bulthuis (SO)/Morewood

OF-Kayla Hoxie (SR)/Bella Richards (SO)

It was a strange second season for head coach Nicole McGahey, who won more games than her first season but missed the playoffs, unlike two seasons ago. She said that defense wins games and the team struggled with defense

“I think last year was another tough season with the injuries we had, and some girls out we didn’t expect to be out and putting girls in positions they had not played before,” McGahey said. “We saw them improve as they went but it just wasn’t enough because it was already midseason.”

Despite the struggles, the program got to see its future with the number of freshmen and sophomores. One of those players is sophomore pitcher Caitlyn Azevedo, who was a workhorse and got the decision in just about every game. That may change this season as McGahey plans to use junior Katie Morewood more but keep Azevedo in the lineup as a designated player or possibly at shortstop.

“It was pretty amazing,” McGahey said. “We were so proud of her and what she brought to the team. Even as a freshman at her maturity and wisdom, she did a fantastic job for us.

“As we saw her play and be able to handle more and more, sometimes in the middle of an inning when our team was falling apart, she was one of the leaders that was pulling that together,” she continued, “I always look for well-rounded players that aren’t just great in the circle, but they can do more than that.”

McGahey says that one of V.C.’s strengths will be the pitcher-catcher combination even though Quinn Livesay is the only freshman and one of two new players to varsity. The other strength will come from the outfield where sophomore Angie Pool moves from center to left and sophomore Gemma Bulthuis moves from right to center. Another change will be junior Kyla Nunez-O’Leary, who goes from catcher to third base. The hitting has to improve as the Lady Crusaders didn’t bat .200 and were shutout in their final three games last season.

“I think our first year, our record showed that we looked better than last year, but records doesn’t always tell,” McGahey said. “Our girls played better together last year than they did the year before.

“At this stage in the season, I don’t look at it like we’re doomed or that we’ve already been beaten, because I think every chance you get on that field is an opportunity to grow and to get better,” McGahey added. “That’s what I expect out of the girls.”

WHITNEY LADY WILDCATS

7-14 overall, 1-7 in the Academy League, tied for fourth place

Head coach: Luis Lavayen (13th season, 93-108)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 40-55

Last time made the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Jocelyn Chou, Ashley Iseri, Karen Kaur

Projected lineup:

P-Taylor Genera (JR)/Susana Toscano (SO)

C-Haley Acosta (JR)/Gabrielle Madjus (SO)

1B- Valarie Villegas (JR)

2B- Victoria Tran (JR)

3B-Kimberly Rossello (SO)

SS-Mia Sun (FR)

OF-Mary Kim (SR)

OF-Janessa Alderete (SR)

OF-Katerin Joachin (SR)

After a playoff appearance in 2016, the program’s first in four seasons, the Lady Wildcats tumbled backwards and couldn’t recover with just a few pure hitters and an up and coming pitcher who didn’t pitch like a freshman in her freshman season. One of the victories was a forfeit victory over Beverly Hills High, two of the losses were forfeits and the team lost by at least 10 runs eight times.

“We did come close in some games,” said head coach Luis Lavayen. “We did okay at the [St. Monica] tournament. So, I was pleased with what we had. This year, I have a lot of new girls; they’re coming along good. They’re really picking it up fast.”

Junior Taylor Genera will again be the workhorse in the circle and can pitch every inning of every game. She is also the lone returning player who batted over .300. Senior center fielder Janessa Alderete and sophomore backup pitcher Susana Toscano are the only other established hitters.

Lavayen said the most improved players are Kim, who didn’t play last season but is strong and catches everything right now and Alderete, who also has a strong arm which bodes well for a program that has not had very good outfielders in the past.

This will be the last season for Whitney in the Academy League, which will dissolve in June. The Lady Wildcats will move to the new 605 League next year and would love to end their time in the Academy League with a trip to the playoffs.

“I’m pretty confident,” Lavayen said. “I think Taylor has gotten faster and that’s going to help a lot. This year I’m a little more confident that we’re doing better.”

 

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