_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES _______________________


605 LEAGUE SOFTBALL : Whitney shakes off sluggish start to bury Pioneer with nine-run third inning

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

As the Whitney High softball team is trying to have a 180-degree turnaround from last season, longtime head coach Luis Lavayen had to think about when he began a league season with a victory. Lavayen has overseen the program since 2005 with not too many successful league campaigns as his teams have had five winning league marks, but none since 2012.

“That was probably way back when [pitcher] Vanessa Goncalves was here,” he pondered. “I think Vanessa was one of the good ones and [senior pitcher] Taylor [Genera] now, I think, has passed Vanessa.”

Goncalves graduated from Whitney in 2006 and Whitney won its league opener in her junior and senior seasons. Since then, the program has been tied for first after one league game three other times (2008, 2011 and 2012) before last Friday’s 605 League opener against Pioneer High. It took a while for the hosts to push across a run and when they did, they added eight more in the bottom of the third as part of an 11-4 victory.

The Titans grabbed a 1-0 lead after half an inning as Brianna Soto singled, stole second, moved to third on a base hit from Karold Carrion and came home on a groundout from Brianna Gonzalez. But Genera settled down and retired the next seven batters she faced and 10 out of 11.

Meanwhile, the Lady Wildcats, who are ranked third in the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 poll, had a chance to respond in their half of the inning. Gabby Razo walked sophomore shortstop Mia Sun, who was quickly thrown out trying to steal second. That play proved costly because senior third baseman Valerie Villegas singled and moved to second on a passed ball. After Razo walked Genera, junior first baseman Kimberly Rossello grounded out into a double play. Whitney would then go three up, three down in the next inning.

“That’s usually how we start; slow,” Lavayen said. “We’re looking at how the other team is doing. I actually thought that they weren’t not that good of a team, but they surprised me a little bit. I told the girls they had to pick it up. You can’t be sluggish; you have to go after it and have to want it.”

But all of that changed in the bottom of the third inning when Razo walked junior center fielder Gabrielle Madjus and surrendered a single to sophomore left fielder Lois Kim. After Sun was safe on a fielder’s choice and a pop-up out, Genera singled in Madjus to tie the game. Rossello would reach on a fielder’s choice before three straight walks and a single from Madjus made it 6-1. With two outs, Sun came up with the biggest hit of the game, a three-run single to right. It was her lone hit of the game while Genera, who slammed a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning, and Villegas, each collected a pair of hits.

“They’re really good,” Lavayen said of Sun and Villegas. “They have their days, but as I have been constantly telling them, it’s just a level swing. I think they think they’re golfing sometimes. But, when they hit, they hit. They got us through a few times already. I love Valerie when she bunts; she’s really good at it, and she runs fast. Mia has a late start usually when she’s stealing, and I’ve already talked to her about that. But I depend on her a lot for the hitting.”

In the circle, Genera was her usual self, scattering five hits and striking out 14, including the side in the top of the second and seventh innings. Whitney, which lost to Artesia High 13-0 this past Tuesday, is 8-5 overall and 1-1 in league play. Last season, the team was 4-11 and the program has not been to the playoffs since 2016. Before that, Whitney’s last postseason trip was in 2012. The Lady Wildcats will travel to Oxford Academy today before hosting Cerritos High on Tuesday.

“I think it’s one more year of experience,” Lavayen said of the difference between last season and this season. “We’ve been really hitting the cages a lot and I really encourage them. This is the last year and I want them to go out with a bang and I’m really hoping we can make it to [the playoffs]. I’m really hoping for that. If we keep going where we’re going, I think we’ll do it.”