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Diamonds in the rough: COC gets big help from surprising contributors

Imperial and Rose have burst onto the scene at College of the Canyons

Posted: May 1, 2009 9:32 p.m.
Updated: May 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Sophomore Lauren Rose, left, and Ashley Imperial didn't get much playing time in their high school careers, but both are helping lead the College of the Canyon's softball team to a conference title.

It was almost as if Lauren Rose and Ashley Imperial were cans of lima beans, positioned deep in the cupboard behind the cookies.

But Rose, a 2007 graduate of Valencia High, and Imperial, a 2008 Saugus graduate, have been found.

And the pair are a giant reason for College of the Canyons softball team's turnaround.

Under new head coach John Wissmath, and with a squad made up of less talent than College of the Canyons is used to, the Cougars went 14-32 and 10-15 in the Western State Conference.

The sixth place conference finish was the first time in five years that COC hadn't finished in first place.

Around the same time, Imperial was carrying mediocre numbers for a Saugus team also having a down season.

Yet the pitcher wasn't the only girl in Saugus' circle.

Four different Saugus pitchers pitched more than 27 innings last season in a definite case of a team not having an ace.

Imperial, though, logged the most innings for Saugus at 82 2/3, going 7-9 with a 3.98 ERA.

With other pitchers in the league overshadowing her - state player of the year in Valencia's Jessica Spigner and Hart's UCLA-bound veteran Destiny Rodino - it was easy to miss Imperial.

After she graduated high school, she didn't have a destination.

Imperial, though, was close to attending and playing for Antelope Valley College.

"COC didn't do as hot last year and AVC had been one of top teams. I was kind of convinced to go to that school," Imperial says.

But Imperial says she questioned her own passion for the game and almost passed on softball altogether.

In the end, she chose to stay local and decided to play for the Cougars.

"She probably got overshadowed from the bigger pitchers (last year in the Foothill League)," Wissmath says. "(This year) she's got an opportunity I think she wanted. She didn't get the glory (last year)."

Wissmath says Imperial might have had the opportunity to play at a higher level, but is now better prepared after coming to COC.

Her numbers this year are a far cry from last year's.

The freshman went a perfect 12-0 with five shutouts in conference play.

Imperial was 15-4 with a 1.65 ERA.

"Her journey has been miraculous," says Rose of her teammate, including a tidbit that Imperial also had her appendix removed this season. "She always keeps a good attitude. It keeps me motivated on field. She'll give up three doubles then go, ‘I got the next one.' I feed off her confidence and so does the team."

Rose is COC's leading hitter this year at .389.

The sophomore has also belted three home runs and added a team high 14 doubles, six triples and 31 RBIs.

As a senior at Valencia, Rose was pushed aside so a freshman could play.

It still ended up OK for the girl who transferred to Valencia from Chicago-area Oswego High after her sophomore year. Valencia won a national championship when Rose was a senior in 2007.

"It definitely had its points where it was frustrating, but it was good to be part of a team that was that good with that much talent," Rose says. "I learned a lot from that team."

And Wissmath says she has continued to mature.

Last year was frustrating for Rose, being that she was called into pitch and was a veteran compared to some of her lesser-experienced teammates.

"She was chomping at the bit from the beginning and I think it was tough (for her last season)," Wissmath says of Rose. "The athletes at COC her first year weren't very strong. She went from one extreme to the next and she had to work harder. She rose to the occasion and took on a leadership responsibility."

But Wissmath says she had to learn to take the pressure off.

The entire COC team played with less pressure and the result was a conference championship and a berth in the California

Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Southern California Regional Playoffs.

The Cougars head to Mission Viejo to play Saddleback College today.

And you better believe Saddleback knows who Ashley Imperial and Lauren Rose are.

Others are finding them as well.

Rose took an official visit to Dayton University in Ohio this week.

Wissmath says Imperial's time will come.



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