Pitching had paved the way to the La Cañada High softball team winning the past two CIF Southern Section Division V championships.
Things will look a lot different this year without the benefit of a proverbial ace, like the Spartans enjoyed over the past three-plus years with Lauren O’Leary and Lauren Cox, and in a move up to Division IV.
“I do think we have some pieces that are going to fit into place, step in and do a job for us,” La Cañada Coach KC Mathews said of the changes in 2013, including the loss of All-Area catcher Catherine Horner to graduation. “You won’t hear me say, ‘Woe is me.’”
Returning seven starters from last year’s CIF championship game, a 7-3 La Cañada win over Beaumont, there’s no reason to. As the Spartans flashed in their four-run win over Beaumont, it’s going to be at the plate, not the circle, that they’ll need to win games after losing Cox, who posted a 0.62 earned-run average last season and was the All-Area Softball Player of the Year.
“The bottom line is we’re going to have put up a couple more runs than we did in certain situations last year,” said Mathews, whose seen his team score 21 runs and surrender 13 en route to a 2-0 start this year.
Experience and veteran leadership should serve the Spartans, who boast five seniors and four-year varsity players and return all but two players from last year, well.
Those seniors are Selina Mohr in center field and in the circle, Kelsey Drange at first base, Jessica Ogden in right field, Annie Monroe at shortstop and Aubri Thompson at third base and catcher.
Sharing time in the circle with Mohr will be juniors Maddy MacKenzie and Alyssa Stolmack. Returning sophomore Olivia Lam and Thompson may share duties behind the plate.
“We aren’t going to replace a Lauren Cox or a Catherine Horner, we’re going to need a number of girls to pick it up and contribute,” Mathews said. “If everybody does their job, I think we’re going to be just fine this year.”
Katy Lee returns to second base and the No. 2 spot in the lineup, behind utility player and leadoff hitter early in the year Olivia Leyva. In left field, Lee and Leyva’s fellow junior Brenna Gay rounds out a strong La Cañada outfield.
Mathews said the team hasn’t really set any “win-loss goals” this season, but it’s no secret it’ll be looking to continue its dominance in the Rio Hondo League by winning its fifth consecutive league title.
“We talk about breaking it down to smaller goals and getting better everyday,” said Mathews, whose team enters the season ranked sixth in Division IV, “but yeah, I’d be lying if I said winning a league championship wasn’t important to us and then looking at the playoffs and seeing as far as we can go there.”
Flintridge Prep is coming off a trying season in which the inexperienced Rebels finished a spot out of last in the Prep League. For Coach Julie Mejia, the rebuilding is still very much in progress.
“It’s gonna be rough. We have a lot of new kids, but the kids are young and raw,” said Mejia, who has seven returners and five freshmen making up her 12-player roster. “We’ll be young, but we look to grow and improve with every game.”
Senior shortstop Ashley Kim will hit third in the Rebels’ lineup, with junior pitcher Drew Montgomery, senior outfielder Jenna Galper and senior utility Marisa Wang looking to be Prep’s core players.
Prep, which opened up Friday with a 7-6 win over Sierra Canyon, will do its best to battle through a Prep League that saw Pasadena Poly and Rio Hondo Prep share the league crown a season ago.
“League will be interesting, I think it will be competitive,” Mejia said. “We’ll compete in league, do some good things and hopefully we can surprise some people.”
Under the guise of veteran coach Kirk Nishiyama, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy also has its work in front of it in the always-arduous Mission League.
“Our goal is to be .500 in the Mission League,” said Nishiyama, whose squad went 3-7 in league last season for fifth place. “We want to be competitive in the Mission League, it’s a tough league.”
Nishiyama’s largest obstacle could be a rather thin roster.
“We don’t have a lot of depth this year,” said Nishiyama, who returns five starters. “I was hoping to get more help with the freshman class. ... We can’t have injuries.”
Senior center fielder Kelly Jacobs and senior shortstop Sumner Hanula, who will play college softball at Loyola Marymount and Wellesley, respectively, should be the team’s offensive catalysts. Jacobs will lead off and Hanula will hit third.
“I think we’ll have good leadership from our seniors,” Nishiyama said. “We’ll rely on our seniors a lot.”
Clean-up hitter Stasia Gregor, a junior catcher, and sophomore third baseman Kaitlin Powers are also returning starters, as is sophomore pitcher Hannah Zika, who will play a pivotal roll in the circle.
“Hannah’s gonna have to throw a lot of innings for us to have a good year,” Nishiyama said.