This 2021 high school softball season will try to pick up where it left off, and local fans won’t have to wait long to get a good look at the best teams. Moore League play starts Tuesday, April 13, with Lakewood hosting Wilson and Long Beach Poly taking on Millikan at Joe Rodgers.
Wilson and Lakewood are the last two league champions after the Lancers won five consecutive titles, and it looked like the Bruins were going to retake the top spot last year when pitcher Hailey Houston tossed a complete game in a 9-3 season opening win. The COVID-19 outbreak canceled the season days later, but Houston is back for her senior season and is the favorite to win Moore League Player of the Year honors.
“I coached (Houston) when she was younger and she outworks the competition,” Lakewood coach Andy Miramontes said. “I’m so proud of her and her hard work shows.”
Houston has helped Wilson win five of its first six nonleague games this year, and the Bruins have outscored their opponents 41-19. The senior captain picked up all five victories in the circle with a 1.75 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 36 innings. Houston also has a team-high nine hits and four extra base hits.
“We work together as a team,” Houston said. “We don’t let anything get in our way. If we make a mistake, we brush it off and keep playing. The biggest thing is that we all support and trust each other to make the plays we need to. Anyone on this team can have the game-winning hit or make the game winning out.”
Houston, an Augustana University commit, said she worked hard on her off speed pitches in the offseason. She organized workouts with catcher Juliana “JJ” Babore and former Bruins first baseman Sinclair Lawhorn, who is now at Long Beach State. Babore is back for her sophomore season after a memorable league debut last year when she hit two home runs in the win over Lakewood.
“If we keep playing like we have been, we’ll be in really good shape,” Houston said. “At every practice our coach reassured us that we are having a season and we will be playing. I feel great and we’re off to a great start. Everyone has been contributing.”
Houston is joined by fellow four-year varsity players Sydney Friejanes and Ava Trachta as team captains. Freijanes will lead off and play shortstop. Trachta is back in center field and has been batting cleanup.
“We’ve got great captain leadership with lots of varsity experience, the girls work hard and we get along,” Wilson coach George Molina said. “We are hitting well overall. We hit every day in practice and want to put the ball in play and put pressure on the defense.”
Third baseman Leah Pettway and first baseman Kaden Marsee have been in the heart of the lineup. Marsee hit two home runs in a recent nonleague game against Mayfair.
Adriana Wiggins and Madison Mitchell have been the corner outfielders at the bottom of the lineup with designated player Caitlyn Almquist and second baseman Isabel Juarez.
Lakewood also has quality leadership and some dangerous bats in the lineup but hasn’t been as successful with only two wins in four nonleague games.
“We’re always blue collar but we’re really blue collar this year,” Miramontes said. “We’re just really scrappy. We’ve got to play some solid defense, put up some numbers and just hope our pitching holds up.”
Catcher Kendall Lundberg, shortstop Brooklynn Baruch and pitcher Ale Mota are all senior team captains who played as sophomores. Lundberg will attend Utah next year, and Mota is headed to UC Davis along with current teammate and senior second baseman Brianna Weeks. She will hit leadoff.
“We’ve got three solid leaders and each of them brings something different to the table,” Miramontes said. “Baruch gets the girls hyped, Mota is a silent leader who leads by example and Lundberg is the whole package… The girls were so excited to come back and I’m just so happy for the seniors. We’ve got a good group of kids. They’re playing for each other.”
Mota, who had 10 hits in 25 at-bats last year in the short season, will move to the circle and split time as the top pitching option with Laci Berecochea. Miramontes is preaching efficiency for his pitchers to put a premium on not giving away free bases.
Berecochea will also be at first base sharing time with senior Kristin Soreno, and Mota will also be at third base with freshman Cat Calzada.
Maddy Mendoza, Cheyenne Gomez and Kristin Sorreno will all be working in the outfield surrounding center fielder, and coach’s daughter, Julia Miramontes.
“I’ve coached her for five or six years so it’s nothing new,” coach Miramontes said. “She gets me and knows I’m hard on her.”
Millikan is back on its new home campus field for the first time in more than two years and the Rams are excited to build a bright future with a stacked sophomore class. Millikan hasn’t won a league title since 2007.
“We are excited and expecting big things from this young group of talented girls,” Millikan fifth-year coach Akemi Fleming said. “We have been working on getting the girls to mesh on the field as well as they do off the field. They need to play as one and communicate.”
Returning starters Grace Fleming and Lily Romero, who are both committed to play in college, are the team captains who have to bring along underclassman like Natalie Lopez, Katie Kmart and Ava Schaffel. Lopez is a Lakewood transfer, Kmart is a freshman first baseman and Schaffel is a pitcher.
Cami Lara, Ari Ramirez, Shorty Wright, Erica Estrada and Victoria Byrum will be the key returners in the bottom half of the batting order.
Long Beach Poly is playing catch-up on and off the field after fourth-year coach Elizabeth Sanches decided not to conduct conditioning practice during the pandemic. That means she’ll need to rely on her entire lineup to staying focused as they play their way back into game shape.
“We are all captains,” Sanches said. “We will look to the experience of our returners of course, but we have never really believed in captains. The expectation is that all of us lead, and all of us lift each other up.”
Isabella Alonso is just one key returner in the circle and at the plate. Outfielder Kristy Villegas is making her way back from an ankle injury, Vanessa Correa and Sakarah Buckner will work the middle infield while Daisy Martin and Jendell Moe play the corner infield positions.
Sanches said she is building a young program with high hopes for freshmen Tiare Ho-Ching, Kassy Villegas, Emma DeLaTorre and outfielders Brianna Bailey and Mai Ricks, who will gain a lot of experience playing both JV and varsity games.
“We have focused more on the strategy of our game, defensive and offensive situational approaches, and building the trust that is so necessary for a successful program,” Sanches said. “At Poly we always find success because we do not base it on wins and losses. Our success is found within ourselves.”
Cabrillo is dealing with low turnout, but girls’ athletic director and second-year coach Denise Sarno said her girls recruited volleyball players to fill out the roster. Sarno returned to be softball coach last year just three weeks before the season. She was the coach for the first seven seasons of the program starting in 1999.
“With the addition of many inexperienced freshman and predominantly volleyball players, we spend most of our practice time working on the basics like fielding and batting techniques, defensive situations, base running and rules of the game,” Sarno said. “A successful season would be to compete in every game regardless of our inexperience and youth. Because of this unique situation, our team goal is to have fun and improve upon individual performance goals.”
Senior first baseman Amya Brackman is the team captain, and will rely on fellow key returners Rayleen Morales, Rosaleen Morales and Estrella Ceja to help her lead. The Morales sisters will be in the middle infield. The top volleyball recruits Kailani Kainao-Rivas and Gizelle Salausa will play in the outfield.
Compton is also dealing with a low turnout and a late start to team practices. Captains Alice Henderson and Cassandra Hernandez will be joined by fellow returners Sammantha Verdugo, Nialah Porter and Jasmine Lee at the top of the lineup.
Zacakora Williams leads the crop of newcomers, and she’s learning how to pitch because of team necessity. Ailynn Gonzalez, Yohann Gonzalez and Crytal Jacquez are also talented new faces in the Compton lineup.
St. Anthony was poised to make a CIF championship run last year when the seasons were canceled, and that’s not lost on this year’s team.
“They’re playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders,” St. Anthony first-year coach Joseph Younger said. “We were rolling last year and feel like we’re owed something, so we’re going to go out and get it this year.”
Younger had been an assistant coach with the Saints for the last seven years, and knows the talent he’s inheriting. Junior Rose Cano will be a key returner in the circle, and junior Amy Metz will need to be versatile in the field again. The Saints won’t have any depth because of low turnout.
“We only have 12 girls on the team, but it’s the right 12,” Younger said. “We have talented players with good work ethic.”
Freshman Miracle McKenzie will be a key addition to the lineup, and Younger is very excited to see the maturation of center fielder Tele Jennings and third baseman Zaniah Puni. Their older sisters played for the Saints and are now with the Oklahoma Sooners.