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Valley Christian makes a statement, remains atop Olympic League


By Loren Kopff


LA HABRA-The numbers were certainly against Valley Christian’s softball team last Thursday afternoon when it paid a visit to Whittier Christian. But one big inning late in the game provided the key numbers that keeps the Lady Crusaders all alone in first place in the Olympic League.

V.C. scored five runs in the top of the sixth and turned a close game into a rout as it blasted the Heralds 10-2. The Lady Crusaders, who struggled mightily in the preseason with injuries, a smaller roster and errors, improved to 5-13 overall but 4-0 in league. Even V.C. head coach Jim Snyder was getting a little impatient, wondering when everything would gel.

“I’ve had a number of conversations with coaches and all I have to say about that preseason and the final assessment is we’re the best 4-13 team out there right now,” Snyder said. “I firmly believe that. I don’t think preseason was a really a true indication of what we’re capable of.”

Through the first 14 games of the season, V.C. scored 57 runs. But in four league games, the team has touched the plate 35 times. Two of those 35 runs came in the top of the third when junior center fielder Madison Wright doubled to the left field gap to bring home junior second baseman Nicole Parker and junior shortstop Emily Morrow.

But the Heralds, who are batting about 100 points more than V.C., tied the game in their half of the inning.

Mackenzie Lou sent a flare just above Parker’s head and Melissa Martene singled to left. A few batters later with two outs and the bases loaded, Hannah Gabriel singled to center to plate a pair of runs. But sophomore pitcher Anna Collier struck out Erica Romo looking and would retire 12 of the next 16 batters.

“Last year we didn’t win here and that was a tough one to lose,” Collier said. “For me and the girls who were on the team last year, it was really important to come out here and win. You really want to win the first time you play a team. That way you keep the momentum going. It was good that we did that.”

“She has a back issue that she struggles with every year,” Snyder said. “About this time of the year, it starts to subside and she gets healthier and starts finding her way. We got the strikes when we needed them. We got the ball up in the zone and got the fly balls, even though some of them were quite deep.”

Collier would score the game-winner on an error in the fourth inning but the Lady Crusaders would bat around two innings later. Wright and freshman first baseman Brianna Lerma led off with base hits and after both were moved over on a sacrifice from Collier, Gabriel walked junior designated player Tia Naulls to load bases. Junior right fielder Kaitlyn Carr then hit a tapper up the third base line but the throw home was too late.

Parker followed that up with a two-run single to the right field gap and after the second out, Morrow drove in a pair with a double. V.C. added two more runs in the final inning.

One key stat going against V.C. was the number of errors it had committed this season, including five in a 13-6 win against Heritage Christian earlier in the week. But against Whittier Christian, the Lady Crusaders made only one miscue.

“We’ve had way too many errors and we don’t think we’ve played our best defense on the interior,” Snyder said. “It’s the timeliness of those errors that really kind of hurt us in preseason. We had very timely errors that we committed in games that we let slip away in the home half of the seventh, or the top half of the seventh in preseason.”

“We’ve been in that situation once or twice this season and I think now that we’re in league, it’s more important for us to focus,” Collier said. “I think we’re learning more how to do that and to not let the nerves get to us.”

Another stat going against V.C. was the fact that it had lost five of the last six games to the Heralds on Whittier Christian’s field. However, the 10 runs V.C. scored are the most against Whittier Christian in the past 30 meetings overall.

“They have great fan support here,” Snyder said. “[Whittier Christian head coach Dale] Van Duyn has done a good job building a program. It used to be a little more intimidating [to play here]. I think this year it’s calmed down quite a bit. You don’t have the football team lined up on the [outfield] fence screaming at the top of their lungs.”

For Collier, who said she was pretty confident coming in and was ready for the challenge after coming off a 129-pitch performance against Heritage Christian, she tossed 113 against Whittier Christian, scattering eight hits. Collier is now 10-2 in league action in one and half seasons and is off to the best league start by a V.C. pitcher since Melissa Dykema went 8-1 in her first two seasons. Dykema would go 24-1 in league during her four seasons from 2003-2006 while Lina Avila went 13-5 from 2007-2010.

V.C. began the second round of league action at Maranatha on May 1 and will host Village Christian Tuesday before travelling to Heritage Christian on Thursday.

“I think we need to play exactly how we played today, play with as much heart as we did today and then we’ll be fine,” Collier said.