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Long Beach Poly Softball

Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits Softball Season Preview

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The Long Beach Poly softball team has taken big strides year over year over year the last three seasons, and made a historic playoff run last year that included a thrilling viral walk-off win that made it onto ESPN. The goal for this year’s Jackrabbit team is simple.

“Well, obviously we want to win,” said returning shortstop and Arizona State signee Tiare Ho-Ching with a laugh. 

That’s something the Jackrabbits have done more and more of under head coach Liz Sanches-Martin, especially since the arrival of Ho-Ching. But they haven’t won a league title since 2006. That isn’t lost on Ho-Ching, a national recruit who was the co-Moore League Softball Player of the Year last year and also the Moore League Flag Football Player of the Year in the Fall.

“We want to take the energy from last year into this year,” said Ho-Ching. “We have a new team this year, a young team, but the goal is the same.”

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There aren’t many teams in Southern California with more talent in the infield than the Jackrabbits, with Tiare Ho-Ching at shortstop and her sister, sophomore standout Ki’ele Ho-Ching at second. With sophomore Emoni Lam Sam at third and sophomore Janelle Morris catching, the Jackrabbits have mega-watt talent and huge bats all over the place.

Sanches-Martin said she can’t say enough about the leadership the Ho-Chings have provided.

“The talent they possess, you’d never know because they’re super humble and super driven, they demand respect and attention,” she said. 

Lam Sam’s recruiting has picked up as well, and Sanches-Martin expects her to showcase her talent this year.

“She’s something else, you guys didn’t even see half of what this girl’s capable of last season,” she said. “She works out 24/7, not in a weird way, not at one of those turf facilities, her extra work is with her dad on the dirt at Hudson Park. She’s a Westside kid, she’s authentic and she’s homegrown.”

Both Ho-Chings and Lam Sam are all returning first-team All-Moore League honorees.

Rounding out the infield is a freshman at first, Sunnie Vaafuti, who’s a utility workhorse for the Jackrabbits, and then a fresh pitching staff that will likely decide how far this Poly team can go. Senior Lana Chao, freshman Bella Correa and sophomore Ari Wilson don’t have a lot of varsity reps between them, but do have talent.

“We hit and we play solid defense but we have to hit and hit and keep hitting,” said Sanches-Martin. “We’re hoping our pitching will come along but we’re young or inexperienced there to start.”

In the outfield, Brianna Bailey will get a chance to showcase her track speed in center, with Ari Molina in right and a platoon staff in left.

The Jackrabbits’ entire group of returning contributors played flag football together and won a Moore League title in the Fall, so between that and travel ball they’re just coming together as a high school softball team right now.

“We’re literally just getting started but that’s okay,” said Sanches-Martin. “I live and die by the mantra that time away and time off is good–then they come banging on my door like coach let’s GO, we’re ready.”

Sanches-Martin’s teams have been known for having a lot of energy and hyping each other up. She said with how intense travel ball has gotten, that’s intentional. 

“This is their time to have fun and remember why they play softball and be mentally prepared for their travel ball season,” she said. “This isn’t even our program–this is their program, we want it to be a release from that world for them.”

Tiare Ho-Ching said that the experience of winning a league flag football title together bonded her team and fired her up even more.

“It added a lot of excitement,” she said. “I mean, I want more of it. This might be my last year playing with my sister so it’s exciting but it’s bittersweet. After this year I’m leaving my sister, my teammates, my friends, and my school. I love Poly. That’s part of me forever.”

Long Beach Poly Starting Lineup

P- Lana Chao, Sr. / Bella Correa, Fr. / Ari Wilson, So.

C- Janelle Morris, So.

1B- Sunnie Vaafuti, Fr.

2B- Ki’ele Ho-Ching, So.

3B- Emoni Lam Sam, So.

SS- Tiare Ho-Ching, Sr.

LF- Presley Digney, Sr. / Phoebe Downs, So. / Brooklyn Bernas, Jr.

RF- Ari Molina, Sr.

CF- Brianna Bailey, Sr.

DH- Alex Togagae, Jr.

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.