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2014 Foothill League softball preview

Nothing is guaranteed for the top two

Posted: April 2, 2014 10:23 p.m.
Updated: April 2, 2014 10:23 p.m.

Saugus pitcher Mariah Lopez is one reason why the Centurions are considered a league title favorite.

 

From the outside in, the Foothill League title looks like a two-horse race.

There’s the been-there, done-that West Ranch Wildcats, winners of two straight league titles.

And on the other side, a Saugus Centurions team that thought the league title should have been theirs last year, before falling into a second-place tie with Valencia.

This year both teams are stacked, with West Ranch returning 10 of 14 players, including the red-hot Lauren Lindvall, and Saugus trotting out the league’s best pitcher in Mariah Lopez.

But if last year proved anything, it’s that just because you’re supposed to win this league, nothing is ever guaranteed.

Canyon is a darkhorse, Hart and Valencia are both young, but talented, and Golden Valley might just have the best team it has ever fielded.

Who will actually win the Foothill League title is anyone’s guess.

West Ranch
The defending Foothill League champions may have lost two vital pieces to graduation, but the 2014 Wildcats might be as deep as any team the school has ever fielded.

Third baseman Lauren Lindvall has been tearing it up offensively during the preleague season, entering Thursday’s league opener against Hart batting .553 with 27 RBIs and nine home runs.

And around the diamond, things aren’t much easier on opponents anywhere else.

Pitcher Lexi Sorensen returns in the circle and will throw to catcher Keeley Walsh behind the plate.

West Ranch, currently 11-3 on the season, adds Saugus transfer Brandi Burgin as pitching competition to Sorensen.

Julia Lombardi returns to first, batting .514 with 11 RBIs so far on the year. And Mollie Sorenson moves in from the outfield to man second base.

“It’s a lot of leadership,” said West Ranch head coach Bob Shults. “Eight seniors right now, probably out of 14 girls we’ve got 10 returners. The chemistry is really, really good this year. It’s probably the most balanced team we’ve ever had. We don’t have that one true superstar we’ve had in the past, but collectively we have a group of girls that really are fun to be around.”

Valencia
The 10-time Foothill League champion Vikings enter the 2014 season with inexperience at two vital positions.

But head coach Donna Lee is hopeful new pitchers Shoshauni Washburn and Elaine Bunyan and catcher Nicole Joseph, who moves behind the plate after two seasons at third base, will form a strong battery this season.

Washburn and Bunyan are trying to fill the hole left behind by the graduation of Sydney Mundell, now at UNLV.

“They’re both pretty raw, pretty young,” Lee said. “They’re going to be tested and have to grow up really fast in the Foothill League. You make a mistake and it’s gone.”

That was the case on Tuesday, when Saugus jumped on both pitchers in a 12-0 Foothill League opening victory over the Vikings, which dropped to 7-7.

Joseph has been strong behind the plate for Valencia during the preleague, though she too is learning a new position.

“So far, so good,” Lee said. “She battles back there. She doesn’t let much get by her. She just wants the best for the team, you need players like that.”

Taking over at third for Joseph if sophomore Erin Andris.

A trio of strong returners should help bolster Valencia’s squad, with Wendy Cardinali returning at shortstop.

Emma Stanley returns at second, with senior Dominique Salgado taking over at first for the departed Kristina Brackpool, who is playing at Penn State University.

“I really think Saugus and West Ranch are the top teams, but we can play with them. If we play at a high level, we’ll hold our own.”

Saugus
The Centurions had high hopes last season with freshman pitcher Mariah Lopez and UCLA-bound Maddy Jelenicki joining the fray.

But Saugus struggled to put things together through the year, and fell into a second-place tie with Valencia in the Foothill League.

This season, Jelenicki is gone, but Lopez returns with a stellar cast around her.

At catcher is freshman Cassidy Fitzgerald, who has filled in well at the position vacated by Jelenicki.

“She’s great. When you watch her she doesn’t look like a freshman. She’s a big kid who takes command and works well with Mariah,” said Saugus head coach Julie Watson-Archer.

Lopez missed some time during the preleague season with a bad bruise on her leg irritated by her throwing motion.

Now healthy, Lopez took the mound against Valencia in Tuesday’s league opener and pitched a complete-game, two-hitter to improve Saugus to 11-5 on the year.

In her place, Taylor Kister took to the circle for Saugus, and will now move back to first base.

Alyssa Rodriguez, the Centurions’ top offensive threat, will return to the hot corner at third.

Saugus adds freshman outfielder Ryleigh Bermea, second baseman Kayla Kessinger has returned from injury and

Lindsay Clare has moved from outfield to shortstop.

“We lucked out with the time,” Watson-Archer said. “It stinks in preseason, but it’s better than having them hurt in league.”

It certainly won’t be easy. It never is in the Foothill League. But the Centurions believe this year will be different than last.

“I think we’re capable of winning league. West Ranch is a tough team, so if we win league it’s not going to be easy,” Watson-Archer said. “We’ll have to play our game and have some luck on our side.”

Hart
The Indians, sitting at 4-8, are young this season, featuring both a freshman pitcher in Kylie Norwood and a freshman shortstop in Abby Sweet, who is batting .419 on the season.

“Abby Sweet, she’s going to be somebody to watch the next four years,” said Hart head coach Steve Calendo. “She’s a heck of a player.”

Norwood, who also plays third base for the squad, is also strong at the plate, batting .346 through 11 games, but is learning to handle the pitching position.

Behind Norwood, Sierra Boyaijian is also picking up innings in the circle for a Hart team looking to surprise some people this season.

“I think we’re going to be competitive,” Calendo said. “Our pitching is very young and in fact learning. They’re two great athletes that have unselfishly given up their position to learn how to be pitchers.”

In order to succeed, though, the Indians will have to find replacements for heavy hitters Paxton Provost and Jenae Coleman.

Between Sweet and Norwood, and returning sophomore Sienna Vannoy, Hart is looking to rebuild on the fly.

Canyon
The Cowboys return a deep team this season, led by returning sisters center fielder Kaelie and shortstop Amanda Doyle, second baseman Tiffany Dyson and catcher Julianna Carlos.

Amanda Doyle is batting .462 with six home runs, while her sister is batting .419 with nine RBIs.

At the very top, though, Canyon saw significant change with the departure of head coach Dwain Whalen and the hiring of new skipper Tim Melton.

So far, Melton has been pleased with the results, and expects his team to be competitive in the Foothill League.

“I think we’re going to compete for a playoff spot,” he said. “Wherever that is in the pecking order I don’t know.”

Canyon has added newcomer Micayla Aguilar to play left field.

“She’s all power,” Melton said. “She’s a home run hitter. She’s one of those kids that can turn the game around with one swing of the bat.”

She’s showcased that early in the season for the 8-5 Cowboys, picking up 10 RBIs and four home runs.

In the circle, Canyon features three girls that Melton is confident handing the ball to in Brittany Workman, Emily Goodspeed and Nicki Dall.

Goodspeed currently leads the team with 33 innings pitched and is 4-1 on the year.

Golden Valley
The Grizzlies may sit at 2-7 entering league play, but they have an incoming weapon they hope will lead to more success in league play.

Incoming transfer Raqual Espinoza is eligible to join the team on April 7, and head coach Hugo Castillo is excited for the potential.

“She brings travel ball experience,” he said. “She plays for SoCal Choppers. This year we will have five SoCal Choppers from travel ball on our team.”

And that experience is something the Grizzlies have lacked in the past.

“That’s what it brings. That experience, that confidence. It’s the ability to slow the game down mentally when you bring travel-ball experience to the team,” Castillo said.

Outfielders Emily Smith and Nicole Morales return to the squad this season, along with sophomores Marissa Felix at shortstop, Valerie Goymerac at third and Tatyanah Castillo at second — all three played impact roles their freshman seasons.

The trio, along with newcomer sophomore Jessica Luna, make up a group Castillo refers to as the “Fabulous Four.”

Junior Miranda Escalera will join the varsity squad at first base, while freshman Jenn Pearlman will be in right field.

“Our goal is to win league games,” Castillo said. “Since I’ve been here we’ve only won one league game. I’m hoping this is the year we can make a splash.”

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