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Foothill League softball: Her own niche

Carly Mortensen’s first two seasons speak for themselves

Posted: April 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Valencia High junior pitcher Carly Mortensen has started since she was a freshman, following former greats who led the Vikings to CIF-Southern Section Division I championships. Mortensen is slowly carving out her own place in that group.

 

Carly Mortensen knows who came before her.

The junior pitcher can’t help but be reminded every time she steps into the circle at Valencia High School.

Signs commemorating the softball program’s 10 consecutive Foothill League championships, 2007 and 2008 CIF-Southern Section Division I titles, and its 2007 national championship line the dugouts and scoreboard.

The achievements were possible because of great hitting and defense.

They were built, however, on pitching — names like Christina Ross, Courtney Baughman, Jordan Taylor and Jessica Spigner.

But by the 2009 season, they had all moved on, and a freshman was left to continue the legacy.

“It was crazy coming into something like that, coming there after all these great girls have been through,” Mortensen says. “I remember my freshman year, (head coach Donna Lee) talked to me at the beginning of the season. She looked at me and said, ‘Obviously you know the tradition of great pitching we’ve had here. I don’t want you to fill someone else’s shoes. I want you to fill your own.’”

As a freshman, Mortensen won 17 games with a 1.15 ERA, 160 strikeouts and a no-hitter against Golden Valley on April 21 of that year. 

Everything began to click during preleague play as she became increasingly motivated to prove to people that she could handle the job.

“Even though I was younger, I was still expected to do just as good as a senior,” Mortensen says. “I just kind of learned that I needed to step it up, and that it was kind of what was expected. The older girls weren’t going to baby me and say, ‘You’re a freshman, it’s OK.’”

One year later, she lowered her ERA to 0.89 and upped her win total to 22 and her strikeout total to 220. She also pushed her team farther in the playoffs.

Her first year, the Vikings were ousted in the second round, but in 2010, they made it to the semifinals.

But it wasn’t far enough.

Valencia lost 2-1 to Santa Margarita after giving up two runs in the first inning.

Afterward, Mortensen shouldered the blame.

“It’s my job not to let a team beat me like that,” she says. “It was more of a thing that I had to learn from, staying ahead of batters. The first inning always counts, no matter what. Like in the Santa Margarita game, it comes back to bite you in the butt.”

Every step of the way has been lined with learning experiences.

Santa Margarita was one of them, and one that Mortensen still carries with her.

The loss served as motivation, and on March 12, she got revenge.

The two-time All-CIF selection pitched a two-hitter with seven strikeouts, leading the Vikings to a 9-0 win over the Eagles in the championship game of the Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Ariz.

“She goes out there and pitches with everything she’s got,” said Valencia junior catcher Karlie Habitz. “We work with the pitches that are working that day. She tries so hard in everything she does. She hates to lose.”

For the last year, Habitz has joined Mortensen in her individualized pitching training, something she started in seventh grade.

The two players head down to Orange County every Wednesday for practice, doing their homework in the car.

That training has helped Mortensen develop her pitches, and now she has five in her arsenal with a sixth in the works. The key, however, is not velocity so much as execution, she says.

“I’m definitely no one to blow it past people,” Mortensen says. “That is not how it’s going to happen with me. I just have to learn to use my pitches. My thing is having to make sure that all my pitches are moving.”

She’s also had to learn to have the confidence to throw them. Where other players may not have the wherewithal or even simply the guts to throw specific pitches in different scenarios, Mortensen does.

And it makes life much easier on her catchers.

“We can look at each other, and Carly knows why I call a certain pitch,” says freshman Maddy Jelenicki, who is splitting time behind the plate with Habitz. “She doesn’t shake off a lot (of pitches), and she has a lot of confidence in her pitches. We can throw a changeup in a situation when we normally wouldn’t. It’s easy to call when she’s pitching.”

Softball is Mortensen’s life, and it has been for a long time.

She started playing when she was 4 ½ years old, and made it her sole pursuit when she gave up gymnastics at 13.

In December 2010, Mortensen secured a spot at the next level when she verbally committed to the University of the Pacific.

With her future locked up, she turned her full attention to finishing out her high school career strong.

“She knows this year she really has to step up and be a leader, not just pitching,” Lee says. “She’s a junior now, and we talked about it before the season, not just leading by example, but as a verbal leader as well. And I think the kids are responding.”

Having already led the Vikings to the Tournament of Champions and Stu Penter Classic titles, Mortensen enters Foothill League play with a 0.65 ERA, a 13-1 record and a fire to earn not just an 11th straight league championship, but a CIF-SS Div. I title as well.

But she says it still won’t be enough for her to be mentioned with award-laden greats like Ross, Baughman, Taylor and Spigner.

“Honestly, I don’t think it is ever going to be comfortable for me to be mentioned with them,” she says. “I just look up to them and think ‘Wow.’ It’s kind of a weird thing for me personally.”

The fact is she’s already begun to carve out her own niche in Valencia softball lore.

And that niche is only going to get larger.

“Now she realizes she has made a name for herself,” Lee says. “She’s comfortable in her own shoes and comfortable where she’s at as far a pitching career. And she’s going to get better. As her confidence goes, so does her pitching.”

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