First published in the Feb. 19 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
By Nathan Cambridge
Pacific League softball is on the horizon and the area schools are ready to go.
“I would like to repeat as league champs; I think that is the goal ahead of us,” said CV coach Joel Curtis, who took over the program last summer.
To do that, the Falcons will have to let its youth play key roles, as evidenced by the lineup at an early preseason game.
”I looked around and saw I have a sophomore on the rubber, and I have a sophomore at first and a freshman at second and a freshman at third, and I have a freshman and two sophomores in the outfield … we’re actually kind of young. [We do have] three seniors.”
Curtis is confident his young Falcons can adapt their hitting styles to the high school levels. Currently, that adjustment is in progress in the field.
“I think our weakest thing is our defense at the moment, because they are young and tend to press. But, once again, we are working on that too.”
The Falcons are prone to using a slogan in order to keep things on track. It’s “KTS,” or “Know the situation.”
“My biggest thing, especially with their age, is focus,” Curtis said. “So we’re at KTS: know the situation, know the situation. What are you going to do if the ball comes to you? What are you going to do if the ball doesn’t come to you?”
Serving as de facto captains will be seniors Isabelle Jamgotchian at catcher, “who will be running things,” and Lauren Curtis at shortstop. Anchoring the outfield will be junior Lily Hinkle. “The shortstop is the general of the infield and the centerfielder is the general of the outfield,” Curtis said.
With the departure of stalwart pitcher Dee Dee Hernandez, the pitching duties will be taken up by a pair of sophomores: Perri Derian and Jaiden Sabelis.
“They didn’t get much pitching time because of Dee Dee, so this year they are going to get a lot of pitching time. They look good. They are hitting spots,” Curtis said. “They both have good pitches and decent velocity.”
New to the fold will be three freshmen playing on the varsity: Megumi Ono, Mila Reddy and Alexa Johnson.
“I’m looking forward to this season, for sure,” Curtis said. “But, based on what we have, I’m also looking forward to the future.”
Last year, the Nitros struggled in the pitching department, but help has arrived this season in the form of a freshman.
“This year, we have an experienced pitcher in freshman Natalie Minkler, who I expect will keep us in games and allow us to compete,” GHS coach Jack Monroe said. “She played travel ball with the Firecrackers. She is an experienced pitcher whose work ethic is unmatched. We will be relying on her heavily this season.”
Of course it will not be Minkler out there alone. The Nitros have nine seniors on the squad.
“The players have put in a lot of work, and we have a fairly large group of seniors who are starting to appreciate the speed of the game and what it takes to compete at a higher level,” Monroe said.
One central player will be senior Kacey Martinez, who led the Nitros in all the team hitting categories last campaign and was their MVP. She will be expected to “continue to be the one to drive the offense,” according to the coach. Junior power hitter Jazmin Combs will also be a key figure at the plate, along with fellow junior Bella Romero. Senior Patty Ramos will be anchoring the outfield with her “cannon arm.” Leading the infield from her post at shortstop will be senior Yara Shoora.
Along with Minkler, another newcomer of note is junior Desiree Guzman, who transferred in from Hoover High and brings “a strong bat and consistent glove.”
The Nitros know it is improbable that they will be in the mix to be in the upper tier of the Pacific, but they have distinct league goals nonetheless.
“The girls are centrally focused on beating our rival, Hoover High School,” Monroe said. “With the new scheduling format, we will get three chances to play them this season, and I don’t think our girls will be satisfied unless they sweep all three games.”
The central focus for Hoover High this season is to be competitive regardless of the opposition.
“I want to be as competitive as we can be,” Hoover coach Rich Henning said. “I don’t want these girls playing afraid. I stress that in practice all the time. The way you practice is the way you are going to play, so if you practice afraid you are going to play afraid, and we don’t want that.”
With a mix of all the classes, Henning has liked what he has seen as the squad comes together. “We’ve got real good team chemistry and I couldn’t be happier about that.”
The Tornados will be counting on Rima Qasim as their “ace in the hole” at shortstop. Also helping out in the infield will be Amy Ramos. Sophomore Paola Cano will be another key player in the infield, and Henning says she “seems to have found a home at first base.” In the outfield, Aliyaah Serna will be the anchor in center.
In the pitcher’s circle will be a freshman, Evelyn Ortiz, who has been getting consistent individual attention at practice to aid in her development.
“Hopefully she won’t let some of these bigger schools overwhelm her. She enjoys playing the game and I think she is going to be one of our team leaders as well,” Henning said.
Junior Karina Malave Saavedra, who has never caught before and is new to competitive softball, will be the backstop, and the coach “loves what she is doing behind the plate.”
Hoover broke through and beat Glendale twice last season and wants to continue that trend.
“If you can beat your crosstown rival, that is your whole season,” Henning said.