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Foothill League softball preview: The Foothill runs deep

There is a lot of talent across the board in 2011

Posted: April 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Senior shortstop Jenna Kelly, who is headed to the University of North Carolina, will lead the Centurions in 2011. Senior shortstop Jenna Kelly, who is headed to the University of North Carolina, will lead the Centurions in 2011.
Senior shortstop Jenna Kelly, who is headed to the University of North Carolina, will lead the Centurions in 2011.
Ace pitcher Emili Escamilla will lead Hart this season as the Indians try to build on a second-place finish in the Foothill League in 2011. Hart is 10-5 so far this season. Ace pitcher Emili Escamilla will lead Hart this season as the Indians try to build on a second-place finish in the Foothill League in 2011. Hart is 10-5 so far this season.
Ace pitcher Emili Escamilla will lead Hart this season as the Indians try to build on a second-place finish in the Foothill League in 2011. Hart is 10-5 so far this season.

Bottom line, Foothill League softball is loaded this year.

Yes, depth is stressed every year for all kinds of sports.

But there is just no way to avoid it.

It’s a sentiment that has been resoundingly echoed by all six coaches in a league chock-full of NCAA Division I talent that is represented at every school.

“I’m seeing probably the most balanced league in years,” said West Ranch head coach Bob Shults. “Everybody is playing well right now.”

Hart head coach Steve Calendo agrees.

“Oh, I think this season is right at the top for the years I’ve been here,” Calendo said. “You’ve never had five teams that are very, very competitive, that could beat just about anybody on any given day. And in respect to the Golden Valley program, they’ve really added some great coaches and great players.”

Canyon, Hart, Golden Valley, Saugus, Valencia and West Ranch have all started out strong in 2011.

The 10-time defending league champion Vikings (14-1) are at the head of the class, pulling a No. 5 national ranking in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association and ESPN Rise polls.

Valencia is also eyeing its third CIF-Southern Section Division I title.

“That’s our goal every year,” said Valencia head coach Donna Lee. “Like I tell the girls, if we don’t win the CIF championship, we have underachieved this year. Last year, we underachieved. We made it to the semifinals. We should have been in the finals.”

Preleague tournament titles in the Stu Penter Classic and the Tournament of Champions are steps in the right direction. The CIF-SS No. 3 Vikings also won the TOC in 2007 and 2008 before claiming the CIF title later that same year.

Lee warns about resting on previous accomplishments, though.

“I told the girls, ‘You guys are in for a rude awakening. League is so much tougher. It’s for bragging rights,’” she said.

Valencia’s bats have remained sharp despite the loss of many key seniors, including all-everything shortstop Madison Shipman.

Freshman Maddy Jelenicki, who verbally committed to UCLA before facing a single varsity pitch, is leading the team with a .628 batting average, seven home runs and 20 RBIs, and is splitting catching duties with Penn State-bound junior Karlie Habitz.

First baseman Bethany Kemp is back and hitting leadoff, while returners Justine Sibthorp and Caitlin Rooney add veteran leadership. Sophomore newcomer Kristina Brackpool anchors the outfield.

University of the Pacific-bound junior Carly Mortensen is back for her third straight season in the circle and has a 0.65 ERA, 115 total strikeouts and a 13-1 record.

But eager to dethrone the Vikings is Saugus.

The Centurions (15-3) are loaded with experience and talent, including five NCAA Div. I signees. There are 11 seniors on the roster of 17.

“I definitely think it comes down to who is playing well at the right time,” said Saugus head coach Julie Watson of the league race, “and a little bit of luck, a little bit of talent and team chemistry. And we have that.”

Eight of the team’s seniors are four-year varsity players, all of whom currently start.

All-Foothill Leaguers Jenna Kelly, Ashley Butera, Abby Linn and Cassie Herrera have all returned to lead a squad hitting a collective .375.

Linn has a team-high .517 average, but she suffered a hand injury during preleague play. Watson is optimistic that the outfielder can play in today’s opener against West Ranch.

The University of North Carolina-bound Kelly, third baseman Randi Jossett, and first baseman Sara Shier are all batting well over .400.

“We have a very deep lineup,” Watson said. “There are a lot of girls on our bench that could probably be starting on other teams, and I think that helps the starters because they are always pushed.”

Herrera, junior Kimmie Lockhart and sophomore Alana Layton provide the Centurions with a three-pitcher rotation.
West Ranch, however, has one go-to hurler.

Junior Bailey Foster has a 1.17 ERA so far this season and is poised to shoulder the pitching load.

Freshman Lauren Lindvall could spell Foster from time to time, but for now, it’s the junior’s show.

“Her presence is there, her will to win is there,” Shults said. “She wants to win. She works great with (catcher Janelle Lindvall). Janelle and Bailey have formed a special bond.”

Janelle Lindvall is primed to establish herself as an elite Foothill player this year with a .614 average, seven home runs and 21 RBIs as a junior. She has already verbally committed to the University of Oregon.

Sophomore shortstop Kylie Sorenson adds pop at the plate for the young Wildcats (12-4), who have seven total freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup.

Shults said he is focused on helping players settle into new positions and gain valuable experience.

“Once we get a little confidence and the games start slowing down, we have a good shot to do well,” Shults said.

West Ranch’s lone senior, Alex Gaff, is transitioning from first base to the outfield, while sophomore Lauren Lombardi returns to third base, where Shults said Lombardi’s defense and hitting are starting to pick up speed.

“I would not want to call it this year,” Shults said. “I don’t think I could call it. We start out at Saugus and Valencia this year. We could be 0-2 without taking a breath.”

If they do, Hart would certainly like to capitalize.

Many people expected the Indians (10-5) to experience a letdown last year after a host of graduation losses, but the team responded with a second-place league finish.

“We aren’t going to catch (teams) by surprise,” Calendo said. “We lost kids, but these kids stepped up. Now they have to improve on that.”

The Indians may have lost the element of surprise, but they return starting pitcher Emili Escamilla and standouts like UNC-bound third baseman Tracy Chandless, Maryland-bound second baseman Juli Strange and shortstop Brenna Carlson, who will play golf at UC Irvine.

Jessica Jones, Sierra Quiala, Samantha Leibman, Paxton Provost, Blake Lewis and Nikki Haslock all add versatility, depth and the potential for an offensive spark.

“It’s more or less of a well-rounded team, because I think some of our hitters have yet to reach their peak,” Calendo said. “But the pitching and defense have been solid. It’s been a different girl every time.”

Sophomore Janae Coleman has stepped in for Penn State signee Lauren Anderson, who is likely out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair muscle damage in her leg, Calendo said.

Canyon, on the other hand, has a three-pitcher rotation and the catcher position locked up.

“I think the girls realize that their senior season is coming up on us fast, and they want to do better than they’ve done in the past,” said Cowboys head coach Dwain Whalen. “The team has a lot of talent. We have more depth than we’ve ever had.”

That group includes Georgia Tech-bound junior catcher Courtney Ziese, who spent last year at Valencia.

Ziese is hitting .362, and has provided stability for the pitching trio of Hayley Bottino, Leanne Hill and Danielle Sullivan, who rotate into the infield when they are not in the circle.

Canyon (10-6) has a team ERA of 2.27.

“It gives us different pitchers to work with depending on what the team we are facing can hit,” Whalen said.

Bottino has also come alive at the plate, batting .392 with three home runs and 15 RBIs.

Four-year starter Jenny Wunderlich will lead an experienced outfield with Tina Dahlquist and Taylor Anderson. The trio has played together for two straight seasons.

Meanwhile, freshman shortstop Tiffany Dyson adds instant offense to make up for the graduation of Brittany Williams, who is now at Oklahoma.

The Cowboys began the season 5-1, but then began to slump.

“The girls were playing really well together,” Whalen said. “They had really good chemistry. We had one bad game, and we kind of went into sleep mode. Recently, in the last three games, we stepped out of that.”

Golden Valley, meanwhile, is looking to step out after years of struggles and win its first league game since beating West Ranch 11-4 on April 15, 2008.

The Grizzlies have taken a leap forward this season, largely because of the consistency of senior shortstop Branndi Melero, who is headed to Auburn next season, and the addition of a brand new coaching staff loaded with elite experience.

Hugo Castillo has taken over head coaching duties and has led the team to an 8-9 record heading into league play, one year removed from a one-win 2010.

Castillo is backed by SoCal Choppers coaches and local gurus Dean and Gary Fausett and Darren Fitzgerald.

“My goal when I took on the team was to make Golden Valley competitive,” Castillo said. “I want them to be able to compete. I knew that our division was tough, but I wanted to make sure they can compete at the high school level. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve been able to.”

Melero is hitting .595 with 20 RBIs, six doubles, six triples and four home runs, followed by first baseman Alyssa Rocha, the only other travel ball player at Golden Valley, with a .457 average 15 RBIs and six home runs.

Sophomore Sydney Herrera is handling the pitching duties.

“She’s learning how to pitch to contact,” Castillo said. “She’s young, so she’ll give up eight or nine hits, but what’s hurting us is (the defense) can’t give up the four or five errors a game. That’s what’s killing us.”

Golden Valley has gone back to the basics, which has resulted in a .300 team batting average.

The Grizzlies are only starting two seniors and are looking to lay a foundation for the future, Castillo said.

In doing so, the ultra-competitive Foothill League could get that much stronger.


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