Three seasons ago, the Sonora High School softball program seemed to be on a collision course with destiny. Unfortunately, it seemed to be the same destiny that had awaited the Titanic.
The Raiders won only two games in 1983, and had only one win the previous season. They lacked pitching, hitting and fielding. Needless to say, things didn’t look so good. The only thing the Raiders had going for them was the watchful eyes of then-assistant coach Sam Robinson.
“I knew there was a lot of talent on that team,” Robinson said. “It was aggravating to watch them. They were so undisciplined, Sonora never had a prayer. They’d lose games 15-0.”
Robinson became Sonora’s head coach in 1984, and he immediately turned the team around. The Raiders were 17-8 last season and finished second in the Freeway League, behind eventual 3-A Southern Section champion Fullerton.
This season, the Raiders are 22-7 and will play Garden Grove (24-7) for the 3-A championship Friday at 8 p.m. at Mayfair Park in Lakewood.
What Robinson brought to Sonora were fundamentals, discipline and, maybe most importantly, his daughter, Kristen.
Last season, as a freshman pitcher, Kristen was 10-2. She combined with another freshman, Lisa Johnson (7-6 in 1984) to lead the Raider resurrection.
“I had originally volunteered to be an assistant because I wanted to see what kind of program Kris would be getting into,” Robinson said. “My first year as coach was tough. There was a lot of pressure on her because I was her father and her coach. People judged her especially hard. She really had to go out and prove herself.”
An all-Freeway League selection from a league that has produced 3-A finalists the last four seasons was Kristen’s vindication.
She is 12-3 this season with 124 strikeouts and a 0.44 ERA. But her statistics pale in comparison to other top area pitchers. Garden Grove pitcher Leslie Osterman, who will start opposite Robinson, is 24-7 this season. Jackie Oakley of Ocean View is 30-0.
What keeps Kristen’s stats trim is Robinson’s decision to go with more than one pitcher this season. Osterman’s personal record of 24-7 just so happens to be the Argonaut team record. Oakley’s 30 is one short of the Seahawks’ 31 victories. Johnson has improved to 10-4 this season with a 0.48 ERA.
“What do you do when you have two talented pitchers?” Robinson asked. “Deprive one of the opportunity to throw to let the other one get the impressive stats? I think we’re that much tougher. Every pitcher has a bad day. What can these other teams do when their pitcher has one? I can always bring in another quality pitcher. I’ll tell you, Friday night I’ll have the quickest hook in the West if Kristen gets into trouble.”
Garden Grove Coach Paula Cervantes never considered going with anyone but Osterman. Even though Osterman and the Argonauts got off to a slow--make that tortoise-like--start early in the season.
From March 16 to 26, Osterman and Garden Grove lost five of six games. The junior said her shoulder was tired from lack of proper care during the summer.
“I didn’t use to do anything for my arm,” Osterman said. “The beginning of the season taught me that I have to take care of it, rest it and ice it after I throw.”
The two-time Garden Grove League Most Valuable Player had been utterly indestructible as a sophomore. She was 28-2 in Cervantes’ first season as coach and averaged 10 strikeouts a game. However the Argonauts were winning most of their games by 1-0 margins, depending on Osterman to hold the opponent to zilch while they tried to scrape together a run.
Osterman’s injury actually proved to be a blessing, Cervantes says now.
“The rest of the team realized they had to field the ball. They couldn’t depend on Leslie to do it all,” she said. “And we really stressed hitting. Last season we weren’t much offensively, but this year we’re scoring three and four runs. The things we learned during that period are really paying dividends now.”
Take sophomore shortstop Marian Mendoza for example. Last season, she batted under .200. This season, she’s hitting .298. The Argonauts are led offensively by first baseman Kathy Lorenz’s .306 average. Other key offensive performers are second baseman Leslie Burke (.288) and left fielder Lynn Titzkowski (.263).
Osterman also plays an integral part in the Argonauts’ offensive plan. Never mind her batting average of .206, she’s quite literally sacrificed her average for the good of the team.
“People don’t realize how important the sacrifice is in softball,” said Arnie Horton, Garden Grove’s assistant coach. “Bases are much more precious in softball. The sacrifice is critical to a team’s success. Leslie’s so unselfish, she’ll do anything to help us win.”
Offensively, Sonora is led by third baseman Tracee Allen (.380). She has three home runs and five triples.