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COC closes in on crown

Posted: April 12, 2009 1:25 a.m.
Updated: April 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
After a season of transition during head coach John Wissmath’s first year at the helm of College of the Canyons softball, the Cougars know one thing is for certain with three games left in their Western State Conference season.

It won’t end with the last regular-season game against Bakersfield Thursday.

The main question that remains is whether or not COC (25-13-1, 14-5) can close out a WSC Blue Division regular season crown, since the Cougars have a chance to lock down a title with a trio of victories to close out their conference campaign.

“We have gotten a huge boost from our pitchers,” Wissmath said. “We were very fortunate to be able to recruit talent like Ashley (Imperial) and Melissa (Herndon).”

Both are local talents, with Herndon having attended West Ranch and Imperial having gone to Saugus, and both have quickly helped put COC back among the WSC elite, notching 12 wins each.

Imperial has also posted an ERA of 1.78 and a perfect 9-0 league mark, while Herndon has accumulated a .376 batting average, which is second on the team, and spends her time away from the circle at third base.

“What has been great about this season is that we have all gotten close as a team,” Imperial said. “A lot of the girls are local so we have played against each other, and I think that has helped because the Foothill League is always strong so that kind of competition drove us to a higher level.”

The local flavor of the team is due in large part to Wissmath’s recruiting.

The former Butte College Coach, who took the reigns from Ray Whitten after he led the Cougars for two decades, brought in a freshman class that had to fill the holes on a roster that only returned four sophomores.

“With such a young team we had to learn fast,” Herndon said. “The sophomores we have really helped us realize what we had to do to perform at this level so we have been really lucky to have them around.”

First baseman Lauren Rose has been one of the key sophomores, hitting a team-high .377 with a Cougar-best 28 RBIs, including a game-winning double to knock home the only run in Tuesday’s win over L.A. Mission that pushed COC into first place.

Still, Wissmath knows his current team is bound to experience more of the growing pains that hampered the 2008 club.

“When you take over a program you know it’s going to take time for the players to get to know what the coaching staff is all about and what you are trying to accomplish,” Wissmath said. “I think that we have an energetic coaching staff, and our players have gained a lot of experience and confidence as this year has gone on.”

The Cougars appear to be peaking at the right time, going 7-3-1 over their last 11 games.

“We always want to play our best, like any team, but we also have the goal to prove to everyone that Canyons is back and show what we are capable of,” Imperial said. “We have beaten the teams that we have needed to beat to be able to say, ‘All right, we are good again.’”


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