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The national champs have competition

Posted: March 27, 2008 3:29 a.m.
Updated: May 28, 2008 5:03 a.m.
 
Look no further than the top for some of the interesting storylines in Foothill League softball, which opens today.

Hart and Valencia both made it to the CIF-Southern Section Division I title game in 2007.

Will there be an All-Foothill final again?

What other league teams can challenge the Indians and Vikings at the top?

It's tough to argue against Valencia as the favorite. They are the defending CIF champs and were also named the national champions by multiple media outlets including USA Today.

But standout pitcher Jordan Taylor is gone.

Head coach Donna Lee has four starters returning, but only one is starting in the same position that she did last year, catcher Amy Moore.

That includes Jessica Spigner, who is headed to Tennessee to play third base.

She hasn't been pitching much since junior high, but Spigner has pitched every game for Valencia this season and is charged with replacing maybe the best softball pitcher the Santa Clarita Valley has ever had.

"She's the leader of this team," Lee said of Spigner. "She gets to touch every ball on defense. She's taken this role on.

This is her baby. She's leading the team offensively and defensively.

"You get these rare athletes every 10 years. She's a leader on and off the field. With her bat, her voice you name it."

Spigner is also hitting .432 and has a team-high tying 14 RBIs so far this year. She hits third and sophomore Madison Shipman hits cleanup.

Shipman has moved to shortstop this season and has already verbally committed to Tennessee. She is hitting .490 and has a team-high 24 hits this year.

Spigner's jersey number is nine and Shipman's is 11 and due to their offensive output, the Vikings team has given them a nickname.

"We call them 911," Lee said. "They are trouble. They definitely are."

While the Vikings had to replace their star pitcher, Hart has the luxury of having returning pitcher Destiny Rodino, a junior who is has verbally committed to UCLA.

She's the only pitcher of record Hart heading into league play today against West Ranch at home.

Head coach Steve Calendo said his team had a tough time gelling offensively at the beginning of the season, but that has come together recently.

"We are working real hard and we're getting close to where we want to go," Calendo said. "We're starting to hit the ball. Our pitching and defense has been very good so far. We have a lot of team speed."

Calendo has a talented group full of Division I talent with right fielder Alexis Caso headed to Long Island, catcher Jessica Shults committed to Oklahoma, and Melissa Brown going to Tennessee.

"Melissa Brown is one of the best players in our valley that people don't talk about," Calendo said. "She's a real tough competitor, very quick, very fast, and tremendous defensively. She's just one of the better players around in all of Southern California."

One of the bigger surprises this year is the improvement of Golden Valley, which is 10-5 heading into league play today.

The Grizzlies won seven games all of last season.

A big reason for that change has been freshman pitcher Cassie Hererra, who is 10-2.

The Grizzlies lost in the championship game of the Hart tournament and also reached the title game of the High Desert Classic in Lancaster, but also lost there.

"I noticed when we started official practice. It was a complete difference from last year," said Golden Valley head coach Courtney Carr. "Last year it was OK if we lost. This year they won't accept the loss."

Carr lost just one senior last season. Along with some young talent, she has six seniors on her squad this year.

Sisters Branndi and Brianna Melero hit first and second, respectively, for the Grizzlies this season. Branndi, a freshman, and Brianna, a junior, have been key to the team's offensive output so far this year. Branndi has the second-most RBIs on the team with 15 and Brianna has a .500 on-base percentage and has walked a team-high 10 times.

"Right now I think Golden Valley, compared to last year, they are a much better team," Lee said. "They have the pitching. We have probably one of the toughest leagues in Division I. It doesn't matter what your record is going in."

Saugus is off to a 6-9-1 start this season and is a young squad. The Centurions return three starters and have seven freshmen on the roster. They have four pitchers sharing duties in the circle: Ashley Imperial, Jenna Kelly, Danae Bobbit, and Kelsey Christopherson.

Christopherson came up from the junior varsity team to help fill in while Imperial and Bobbit have been battling ankle injuries. Head coach Julie Watson said both should be fine to play in the league opener.

Canyon and West Ranch have gotten off to tough starts this season. The Cowboys, 3-9 thus far, face Valencia on the road to open league play.

Danielle Sullivan and Ashley Johnson have carried the bulk of the pitching duties, with Johnson picking up two of the team's wins. She is also hitting .389, a team best, while Nicole Johnson has a team-high seven RBIs.

The Wildcats are 3-10 and open at Hart.

Melissa Herndon has racked up 67 innings in the circle this year and has a 2-9 record. Newcomers Michaela Hernandez (outfielder) and Alex Gaffe (first base) have made a big impact in their first year with the team.

This is the first year with seniors at West Ranch for head coach Cassandra Perez and she has five on her roster, with three getting significant playing time.

The Wildcats have three returning starters from last season.

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