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⚾️ 2022 SOFTBALL PREVIEW – 605 League Figures to Get Tighter With Artesia, John Glenn Improving

February 23, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

For the first time since the 605 League was formed, it’s no longer Cerritos High and everyone else. There are two other teams that could supplant the Dons from the top perch as Artesia High and John Glenn High have improved their programs. Gahr High and La Mirada High, soon to be league rivals, hope to stay competitive in the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 1 while Norwalk High, Valley Christian High and Whitney High all have new head coaches.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS                                                                                                  

6-6 overall last season, 6-4 in the 605 League, tied for second place, lost to Arlington High 8-6 in the Division 4 first round playoffs

Head coach: Ed Blanck (second season, 6-6)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 47-34

Last time missed the playoffs: 2018

Division 5

Key losses: Shaylin Perez

Projected lineup:

P-Maya Torres (SO)/Allisiah Valenzuela (SO)/Miriam Estrada (SR)

C-Vanessa Soto (SO)/Alexis Duenas (SR)/Arianna Franco (SO)

1B-Silvanna Rodriguez (JR)/Feauali Anderson (SR)

2B-Duenas/Irma Gonzalez (SO)

3B-Franco/Torres

SS-Gonzalez/Soto

LF-Estrada

CF-Alea Medina (FR)

RF-Rodriguez/Jazlynn Jara (SO)/Trinity Panawash (SO)

If it were up to Artesia head coach Ed Blanck, he would have liked to have more games on the 2021 docket to know the girls a little bit more and vice versa since he had just taken the program over from former head coach Dayna Coleman. Instead, it was a 12-game season with 10 of those coming in 605 League action, and another one in the playoffs. This season, Blanck has over 20 games on the schedule, including three against Suburban League teams.

After going 24 seasons between trips to the playoffs, the Pioneers have now advanced to the postseason three times in the last four full seasons. But Blanck wants more than just a trip to the playoffs.

“At the beginning of the season, that’s what I told the girls,” Blanck said. “I told them our goal is to get to a CIF game. That last game against John Glenn was awesome. What a way to end and of course, they were all freshmen and I had one senior. That was a big deal.

“I told the girls to grasp this moment right here because how many freshmen make varsity first of all,” he later questioned. “And how many freshmen are going to be playing in their first CIF game? I said, ‘use this for our future’.”

Artesia defeated Glenn 9-8 in 12 innings on the last game of the regular season to gain a tie for second place in league and the team now has its eyes set on knocking off powerhouse Cerritos for the top spot. Sophomore pitcher Maya Torres has the makings of being a top league pitcher by the time she is a senior. As she goes, so will the Pioneers. Offensively, there is some pop in senior veteran leader Alexis Duenas and sophomore Vanessa Soto, both of whom are catchers but can play other positions. Sophomore Arianna Franco had a broken ankle last season but is ready to go for this season.

“I’m hoping that it’s going to be right up there,” said Blanck. “I’m hoping through that experience and experiencing that, that they’re hungry for it again; to get to the second game in the playoffs. That’s our goal now. We have tough competition this year with Cerritos and John Glenn. I’m just excited and ready to play.”

Blanck added that in order for his team to have even a better season than 2021, it needs to play as a team and gel as a team, adding that if they gel together, he thinks the Pioneers can be unbeatable.

CERRITOS DONS                                                                                                                   

22-2 overall last season, 10-0 in the 605 League, first place, lost to Sultana High 4-3 in the Division 3 semifinals

Head coach: Todd Denhart (second season, 22-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 72-33

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Division 3

Key losses: Alexa Diaz, Azalea Herrera, Samiya Jones, Lauren Lejano, Leiloni Pina

Projected lineup:

P-Erin Gibbs (SR)/Jadyn Nielsen (SR)/Natalie Gardea (SO)/Kylee Manibusan (SO)

C-Toafaoalii Pua (SO)/Alianna Calderon (FR)

1B-Elana Figueroa (SR)/Makayla Sur (SR)

2B-Katelyn Caneda (SR)/Catherine Quibrantar (JR)

3B-Quibrantar/Sur/Kalie Matsuno (FR)

SS-Nielsen

LF-Presley Hendrix (SO)/Mia Rafael (SO)/Gardea/Quibrantar/Madeleine Morante (SR)

CF-Camille Lara (JR)/Morante

RF-Hendrix/Manibusan/Rafael/Morante

Other than losing in the semifinals last season, head coach Todd Denhart couldn’t find any negatives about last season. Cerritos had its best record since 2000 when it won the Division II championship and had everything going, from pitching to hitting to defense. The Dons lost both their games by one run, reeled off 19 straight wins at one point and posted a dozen shutouts. In fact, he went on to say that everything from the 2021 season was positive.

“I felt we had a good core if we could put this thing together,” he said. “Did it surprise me? I guess the answer is yes and no. I just didn’t know coming back from the whole Covid [situation] and how it was going to work. We only had four weeks of practice before our first game.”

Denhart added that because of the shortened season of 2020, it kind of helped that the team was successful last season because the girls were hungrier to play. The talent was there but the question was if they could gel as a group. That, according to Denhart, was the biggest question.

Even though Cerritos graduated some big pieces to its success of the past several seasons, there is still enough in the tank to not only win another league title but get all the way to the CIF championship game, and even win it. Senior pitcher Erin Gibbs is as tough as they get in the circle and besides her, the talk of the program lately has been the middle infield with senior second baseman Katelyn Caneda and senior shortstop Jadyn Nielsen, who is going to the University of Hawai’i and will backup Gibbs. Nielsen has been getting a lot of attention during her time at Cerritos, but do not sleep on Caneda.

“Katelyn is a softball player,” said Denhart. “That’s why she is going to [the University of] Nebraska. She’s not very vocal, but she comes out, puts her work in and does her job. She’s one of those hard-nosed kids that every team needs. She leads by example.”

Senior Makayla Sur, who played third base last season, replaces the graduated Samiya Jones at first base, which has always been her normal position with senior Elana Figueroa backing her up.

Junior Catherine Quibrantar, according to Denhart, will be the jack of all trades and play multiple positions, including backing up Caneda. Several players can play any of the outfield positions, but junior Camille Lara, who moves from right field to center, is the veteran leader.

With the emergence of Artesia and Glenn over the past year, it may not be as easy for Cerritos to breeze through the league as it has been accustomed to since the league was formed.

“I don’t want to say it’s ours to lose,” said Denhart. “Any of those three teams have got a shot. I think we have the talent to make another run [in the playoffs]. Again, it’s going to come down to the camaraderie of the group; how they feel about each other.”

GAHR GLADIATORS                                                                                                  

14-7 overall last season, 7-3 in the San Gabriel Valley League, third place, lost to Mater Dei High 6-3 in the Division 1 first round playoffs

Head coach: Rey Sanchez (third season, 42-13)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 92-20

Last time missed the playoffs: 2013

Division 1

Key losses: Valerie Alvarez, Ashley Benavides, Kristalyn Romulo, Grace Rivera, Skylar Sanchez, Taylor Stephens

Projected lineup:

P-Marley Cortez (SO)/Hailey Sanchez (JR)

C-Breanna Lucero (SR)/Larissa Flores (SO)/Alyssa Tavera (SR)/Alyssa Aguilar (SO)

1B-Amanda Ta’amu (SR)/Aguilar/Cortez

2B-Mika Huskey (SR)

3B-Hayley Olivas (JR)/Cortez

SS-Rio Mendez (SO)

LF-Sanchez/Malaia Huskey (FR)

CF-Natalia Hill (SO)/Huskey, Ma.

RF-Sophia Magcale (JR)/Huskey, Ma.

After winning the San Gabriel Valley League for six straight full seasons, Gahr was defeated at its own game-pitching. While the Gladiators had the hitting to make it a seventh straight season (six games were played in 2020), it was the pitching that hurt Gahr, which stumbled to third place in league. Two of the team’s four pitchers graduated and now the Gladiators are hoping to rebound. In fact, head coach Rey Sanchez went as far as to say the program is in a ‘serious reloading situation’.

“Warren and Downey had some good pitching,” said Sanchez. “Their girls shut us down when they needed to. We had some tough games and all four of those games were tough games. I think it just came down to the other teams pitched better than we did.”

While Gahr split with Downey High, it was swept by Warren High by a combined score of 11-6 and when the season was over following a 6-3 playoff loss to Mater Dei High, the Gladiators had given up five runs or more 10 times while posting four shutouts. The 2021 season also saw one of the best senior classes the program has ever seen graduate.

As for this season, Gahr returns plenty of players, most of whom are ready to fill in the spots vacated by regular starters, including sophomore pitcher Marley Cortez. Backing her up is junior Hailey Sanchez, who is a left-handed hurler but is right-handed when she is on the outfield. Behind the plate, senior Breanna Lucero figures to get the bulk of the work but keep an eye on sophomore Larissa Flores, whom Rey Sanchez says is ‘dynamite anywhere I put her on the field’.

Even though the team is filled with a ton of returning players, a lot of them didn’t see as much time on the field. This season is their time to shine, especially the sophomores and juniors and Rey Sanchez says they are ready to take on that challenge.

“I think they are,” he said. “We have some pretty established players. Take Rio Mendez for example. She didn’t get a lot of time last year, but this kid is a player; she’s special at short. She is special at shortstop and she’s not afraid with the bat. This girl is a highlight reel.”

Once again, Gahr will be put to the test with another brutal non-league schedule that will see the team play in the Torrance National Tournament, the Michelle Carew Classic, Cerritos for two games, La Habra High and Kennedy High for two games, just to name a few.

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

10-6 overall last season, 5-5 in the 605 League, fourth place, lost to Alverno Heights High 8-4 in the Division 7 quarterfinals

Head coach: Larry Leal (fourth season, 13-23)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 21-57

Last time missed the playoffs: 2019

Division 6

Key losses: None

Projected lineup:

P-Gabby Ortega (SR)/Carissa Galvan (FR)

C-Julia Cole (SO)/Kristy Rodriguez (SO)    

1B-Anais Perez (SO)                                                       

2B-Janessa Leal (SO)/Rodriguez

3B-Aileen Lopez (SO)

SS-Beatriz Galvez (JR)

LF-Daniela Barron (SR)                                      

CF-Diana Bravo (SO)

RF-Galvan/Ortega

Last season was one for the ages in the history of John Glenn softball. Not only did the Eagles get to the playoffs for the first time since 1990, but they also advanced to the quarterfinals and had the program’s first winning season since going 12-9-1 in 2004. The team also went .500 in league play for the first time since 2015 and had its highest league finish in over two decades.

“A lot of things happened that we set our goals for,” said head coach Larry Leal. “Obviously, we didn’t make it all the way, but we got far. I think when they got to the quarterfinals, they just got a little too excited.”

So, what does Leal do for an encore? For starters, the Eagles moved up from Division 7 to Division 6 and Glenn did not graduate anyone from the 2021 team. Still, the team is loaded with sophomores, eight to be exact, and there are four freshmen to add to what Leal hopes is a new trend at Glenn.

In the circle is one of the team’s two experienced seniors in Gabby Ortega with freshman Carissa Galvan backing her up. By the time the season ends, it will be a case of out with the old, in with the new as far as the program is concerned.

“We’re looking for Gabby to pull the weight,” said Leal. “She’s a great pitcher, she listens, she’s focused and this is her last season and she wants to try to get all the way and we’re going to try to help her get there. Carissa can come in and she can shut some people down.”

Anyone in the lineup, from the leadoff spot to whoever is batting ninth, can hit, and hit for power. Sophomore catcher Julia Cole is a big home run hitter but look for left fielder Daniela Barron to have a solid season as she wraps up her high school career. The fourth-year coach lists sophomore center fielder Diana Bravo, his daughter, sophomore second baseman Janessa Leal and sophomore third baseman Aileen Lopez as the most improved players. If you think this season’s team is good, just like last season, Leal warns that next season could be even better.

“This year’s team has got a year under their belt, and we have a backup pitcher,” he said. “They took a week off after [the end of last season] and they’ve been practicing all summer and offseason. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

LA MIRADA MATADORES                                                                                                     

20-6 overall, 8-0 in the Suburban League, 1st place, lost to Los Alamitos High 5-0 in the Division 1 first round playoffs

Head coach: Brent Tuttle (seventh season, 116-51-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 96-38-2

Division 1

Key losses: Savannah Adams, Alyssa Campbell, Josie Dipillo, Dominique Ford, Halyne Gonzalez, Lauren Hutchings, Alexa Sams

Projected lineup:

P-Aleyna Urbina (SR)/Elisa Castro (JR)/Quira Castillo (FR)/Angelina Conde (FR)

C-Rebecca Eckart (SO)/Peyton Powers (SR)

1B-Natalie Craig (JR)/Angelina Conde (FR)

2B-Alyssa Avila (FR)/Angelina Ratzlaff (FR)

3B-Janis Espinoza (SR)

SS-Amanda Urbina (FR)

LF-Powers

CF-Grace Archuleta (SR)

RF-Brynn Fukumoto (SR)/Grace Giesler (SR)/Layla Monteon (SR)

La Mirada had yet another banner season that was cut short early because of the competitive nature that is Division 1 of the CIF-SS. This will be the final year of the Suburban League as it will join forces with the San Gabriel Valley League next season to form one conference. For the Matadores, they will be grouped in with the better half of the SGVL, plus Mayfair High. Until then, the team will be reloading as the program usually does without missing a beat.

“We have 11 seniors this year, but the thing I’m telling everyone is we’re young experienced-wise,” said head coach Brent Tuttle. “We have three kids who have played a lot at the varsity level, who are [senior Grace] Archuleta, [senior Janis] Espinoza and [senior Aleyna] Urbina. After that, we don’t have a returning starter or someone who has played significant time because we lost a big group. Everybody says we’re rebuilding, but it’s a matter of girls stepping up and now it’s their turn.”

In the circle, Tuttle will be counting on Urbina to pick up a lot of innings with the rest of the staff pitcher by committee. Another position that Tuttle plans to use by committee will be at second base where a pair of freshmen-Alyssa Avila and Angelina Ratzlaff will play but might be hit for. Tuttle added that both of them have some of the best glove work he has seen.

Senior third baseman Janis Espinosa is a true utility player who has played nearly every position during her first three seasons while senior Grace Archuleta will anchor the outfield in center where she has played for three seasons.

If there is one positive about the Matadores this season is that Tuttle has a very deep team. With 22 players on the squad, Tuttle says he truly believes he has two girls who can play every position and he would not feel bad about starting either one in any game.

On the topic of the schedule, Tuttle believes it’s one of the toughest in Southern California and because the league isn’t that strong, the non-league slate will prepare the Matadores for the Division 1 playoffs. He continued by saying he’ll be happy with a .500 record outside of league play.

Tuttle added that he never sets a goal of winning a league title or a CIF championship at the beginning of a season because you’re setting yourself up for failure. His goals are to get the team into the playoffs and win at least six league games. From there, the team will reassess their goals. But he did predict that they’re going to surprise some people being young.

NORWALK LANCERS                                                                                    

7-9 overall, 4-4 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to Fillmore High 14-4 in the Division 5 first round playoffs

Head coach: Fred Perez (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 35-52

Last time missed the playoffs: 2019

Division 5

Key losses: Arianna Ortiz

Projected lineup:

P-Jailynn Banda (SO)/Kendall Nakano (SO)/Kamryn Velazquez (SR)

C-Leilani Juan (JR)/Aby Castro (SR)

1B-Brianna Perez (SR)/Itzel Hernandez (SO)/Monique Rivas (FR)

2B-Marissa Loya (SR)

3B-Cerise Cervantes (JR)/Rivas

SS-Nakano/Juan

LF-Kazandra Gonzalez (SR)/Miranda Chavez (JR)/Kasarey Lotts (JR)/Andrea Torres (SR)

CF-Brianna Gutierrez (SR)

RF-Gonzalez/Chavez/Lotts/Torres

The Lancers will be playing this season with heavy hearts as first-year head coach Vic Juan passed away on Feb. 9. His assistant Fred Perez will take over. Two days prior to his passing, in an interview with Juan, he said he was excited about taking over the program, which had been held down by David Gonzalez the past six seasons, because the program was adding a freshmen/sophomore team. With the addition of 13 players on the frosh/soph squad, there are over 50 players in the Norwalk program.
“On the varsity level, we are super exited,” said Juan. “We have 12 seniors, and we have a lot of returners. Our core players are still underclassmen and we brought on a lot of seniors this year, even some from other sports that weren’t with us last year that are new to the program. But they are athletes here at the school. So, they bring energy; they bring leadership that we need in the dugout.”

Sophomore pitchers Jailynn Banda and Kendall Nakano will be in the circle again with Banda figuring to get the majority of the action. She went 5-8 last season while Nakano was 1-1 with the victory coming in the form of a perfect game at Firebaugh High on May 11, 2021.

Senior Aby Castro is a transfer from Bakersfield whom Juan was excited about bring in because she is a left-handed catcher who will backup junior Leilani Juan. Senior Marissa Loya took last season off but returns to the program to take over the duties at second base while last season’s second baseman, senior Kamryn Velazquez, is the third-string pitcher and will be a utility player. At the time of the interview, Vic Juan stated that the outfield was up in the air with senior center fielder Brianna Gutierrez the only certainty.

This will be the last season Norwalk stays in the Suburban League as it, Gahr and La Mirada will merge into the big conference with the Lancers most likely being on one side and the other two, along with possibly Downey High, Mayfair High, being on the other side.

“We have been really thriving with this team about creating a culture, understanding that there is more to this than softball,” said Vic Juan. “They understand that school comes first; academics is important. But also learning about each other outside the field. I think the biggest thing about us being successful is we have to be able to be great, and to be great like La Mirada and Mayfair, we have to win the one-run games.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS                                                                            

4-14 overall last season, 3-5 in the Olympic League, tied for third place

Head coach: Chet Kingery (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 29-57

Last time made the playoffs: 2018

Division 6

Key losses: Quinn Livesay

Projected lineup:

P-Chelsea Azevedo (SR)/Bella Bulthuis (SO)

C-Madison Morgan (JR)/Catheryn Young (SR)

1B-Zoey Barrett (FR)Azevedo/Bulthuis

2B-Julie Gonzales (SO)

3B-Bulthuis/Gladdianne Nagao (SR)/Morgan/Shawnee Starke (SR)

SS-Britton Brown (FR)

LF-TBD

CF-TBD

RF-TBD

Chet Kingery replaces Nichole McGahey as V.C.’s head coach and brings with him a lot of experience, both on the baseball and softball fields. Kingery was involved with Mayfair’s baseball program for years before moving on to travel softball for the past eight years. He is also a cousin of V.C. head baseball coach Matt Dahlenburg. This will be Kingery’s first head coaching stint at the high school level.

“We’re trying to improve on that 4-14 of last year,” Kingery said. “We’re going to take our bumps and bruises. We have a lot of freshmen; a lot of underclassmen. This year, we might take a lot of lumps, but hopefully we can be better with it.”

The Defenders return six players from last season including their two pitchers-senior Chelsea Azevedo and sophomore Bella Bulthuis. Azevedo brings with her a really good off-speed pitch, according to the new coach, who also says she throws and spins the ball really well and her curve ball and screw ball move quite a bit.

Junior Madison Morgan is being asked to convert from being a center fielder to replacing the graduated Quinn Livesay behind the plate. Morgan and senior Catheryn Young will be platooning that position until Olympic League starts, according to Kingery. The outfield spot is up in the air as of the first Saturday of the season. However, when the Defenders visited Glenn on Feb. 17, sophomore Annika De Bie started in left, Barrett started in center and Starke started in right.

“We’re just trying to find the right fit where everyone is going to play, and what’s going to make us better,” Kingery said. “Once we find it, we’ll know. There are a lot of unanswered questions this early. I’ve only taken the program over a few weeks.”

As far as expectations, Kingery would like the team to just play softball, compete and play for each other. Offensively, Azevedo, Brown, Bulthuis and Morgan are the ones that could carry the Defenders.

WHITNEY WILDCATS                                                                                    

0-13 overall last season, 0-10 in the 605 League, sixth place

Head coach: Stephanie Machado (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 27-52

Last time made the playoffs: 2019

Division 7

Key losses:  Grace Gutierrez, Lois Kim, Mia Sun

Projected lineup:

P-Monicka Manni (FR)

C-Chiugo Anyama (FR)

1B-Kristen Sutton (SO)/Alise Garcia (SO)/Bianca Contreras (JR)

2B-Andrea Victoria (SO)

3B-Mariana Botello (SO)

SS-Madison Velazquez (FR)/Sutton

LF-Luisa Tuioulotu (SO)/Sreeja Reddy (SO)

CF-Rebecca Simbol (SR)

RF-Ryleigh Shorts (SO)/Tuioulotu/Reddy

Tough times have hit the Whitney program since its 2019 trip to the quarterfinals. Former longtime head coach Luis Lavayen left after 14 seasons with the Wildcats. Then Burt Ogata took overall but won just once in 19 games and saw the 2021 squad score 20 times while allowing at least 14 runs in 11 of the 13 games with the other two being forfeit losses. Now, former Cerritos standout Stephanie Machado takes over and she couldn’t be happier. Machado, who taught at her alma mater for five years, is Whitney’s first on-campus head coach since 2000. Since then, the program has gone through five coaches, including another ex-Cerritos player, Nichole Maddox (2003-2004).

“At Whitney, I could have coached earlier, but what kind of put the damper on it was that it was on campus,” Machado said. “For me, it was just not really knowing [how it would be] because I was also teaching at Cal State Fullerton at the time. But I’ve always wanted to [coach] because I’m good in the classroom. I’m a great teacher and I think that aspect of coaching is sometimes overlooked.”

Machado went to a few games last season and noticed what the team was doing and not doing and told herself that there are little things that she could improve if she became the head coach. Although she is setting the bar low, her goal is to win at least one game. This will still be a young team as there is one senior, Rebecca Simbol, and one junior, Bianca Contreras. The remainder of the 12-member squad are freshmen and sophomores.

The future of the program could lie in freshman pitcher Monicka Manni and her batterymate, freshman Chiugo Anyama, a rarity for any softball program to start a freshman catcher and pitcher. Both bring a lot of softball experience with them, which is one of the reasons why Machado is going with them than the varsity experience of junior Bianca Contreras and sophomore Mariana Botello.

 

 

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