Orange County softball figures to feature a little more hitting this season, but the best teams figure to be the ones with the top pitchers.
Here’s a look at the top 10 teams:
1. FOUNTAIN VALLEY
It is tough enough for opponents that Fountain Valley has Orange County’s best pitcher in sophomore Rae Rice, but the Barons also return 12 players, including seven starters and eight seniors. Last year, Fountain Valley went 24-7, won the Sunset League title and advanced to the semifinals of the Southern Section 4-A playoffs before losing to eventual champion St. Paul.
“Our strength is experience,” said Coach Cary Baker, who begins his 10th season at Fountain Valley.
All-Southern Section players Rice, who was 16-9 last season with an earned-run average of 0.18, and sophomore catcher Shannon Dolan return, along with six all-Sunset League players.
Last week, Baker’s team played Gahr and its pitcher Dede Weiman, who has signed a letter of intent to attend UCLA, to a 13-inning 0-0 tie in a game called because of darkness. And Baker did not even use Rice. Instead, sophomore Janet Miyahara pitched against Gahr.
The Fighting Irish have lost some strength from last season’s 25-5 team that won the Garden Grove League and Southern Section 3-A titles. All-Southern Section first baseman Deanna Mays (.333) and All-Garden Grove League second baseman and backup pitcher Lauri Graper (.324) are gone.
But Kennedy has five returning starters, two of whom were all-Southern Section players. One is sophomore left-hander Cheryl Longeway, who coaches tab as the top pitcher in the county behind Rice.
The other is senior center fielder Suzie Berdis, who batted .299 last season.
Longeway went 23-3, finishing with 235 strikeouts and giving up 58 hits against 623 batters for an ERA of 0.37.
“I think we will be very strong defensively,” Coach Sue Hall said. “The only thing we have to do this year to do well is to execute offensively, to run our plays correctly.”
Coach Lance Eddy’s Canyon team got a big boost last week when Chanele Chambrone moved within the Canyon attendance boundaries.
Chambrone was one of the county’s leading hitters last season (.520) and an All-Southern Section 3-A catcher at Tustin High.
Chambrone, who also plays first and third, fortifies an already strong infield that includes junior third baseman Krissy Kyriazis, senior shortstop Jill Player and sophomore second baseman Dalynne Large.
Pitching is the major question mark for the Comanches. Sara Roberts, 6-3 last season, and Kristen Heizer, a transfer from Northern California, will share the pitching duties.
“Our strength is defense and our hitting is probably as good as anybody’s,” said Eddy, who last year led his team to an 18-9 record and an appearance in the first round of the playoffs.
Coach Debbie Harless has eight returning starters from last year’s 16-11 team that won the Orange League title and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Southern Section 3-A playoffs.
“Defense is our strength, no doubt about it,” said Harless, whose entire starting infield returns.
The members of that infield are all-league catcher Lisa Sciarrino, the Pioneers’ top hitter; third baseman Misty Pinkerton; Pinkerton’s sister, Ivy, an all-league shortstop/pitcher; second baseman Collene Conahan, and Dena Petersen, who plays first base and pitches.
Freshman Beth Queypo and Dawn Fowler will handle the pitching.
5. SUNNY HILLS
Sheri Lazzarini returns as a varsity coach after serving as an assistant from 1986-87. She coached Sonora’s varsity last season. The Lancers have five starters returning from last season’s 16-14 team, which won the Freeway League title for the third consecutive year but lost in the second round of the 3-A playoffs.
Talented freshmen Stacey Thurber (first base) and Suzanne Hernandez (left field) will move into starting positions, Lazzarini said.
All-Freeway League catcher Erin McKenney returns for her senior year. “She is a real consistent ballplayer with a good strong arm,” Lazzarini said.
But the player of impact is senior left-handed pitcher Amy Huett, the league’s most valuable player last year.
“The franchise is Amy Huett at pitcher,” Lazzarini said. “The only thing we need to work on is our offense.”
6. LAGUNA HILLS
Third-year Coach Cary Crouch has eight starters back from last year’s 20-10 team that lost the 2-A championship to Woodbridge after finishing second to the Warriors in the Pacific Coast League.
Crouch lost shortstop Erika Schlitz (Ohio State) to graduation, but the rest of the infield returns. Freshman Torin Lee will step in at first, and all-league selections Carolyn Langfield and Lori Sommers will play shortstop and second base, respectively. Kelly Besser, who played third last season, will play first.
Senior Margo Melendrez gives the Hawks solid pitching. Last season, the All-Southern Section pitcher went 19-9 with an 0.35 ERA and batted .354.
“I would say consistency describes us,” Crouch said.
7. TRABUCO HILLS
Mike Flanegin begins his first season at Trabuco Hills after leading Esperanza out of the Empire League cellar for the first time in five years and to a second-place finish. He brings his stepdaughters, junior shortstop Linda Lunceford, a power hitter and a first-team all-league selection her freshman and sophomore years at Esperanza, and freshman Christy Lunceford, who will play at third base and catcher.
Amy de la Cruz, a right fielder from Pacifica, also transferred to the school.
Additionally, the Mustangs have four returning starters. One of them is pitcher Marta Bickert, who as a freshman last year had an ERA of 0.89.
Fifth-year Coach Sharen Caperton has eight players back from last year, including all-Southern Section 3-A selections Tricia Bar (shortstop) and Kelly Cook (pitcher).
“I would say Kelly is one of the top five pitchers in Orange County,” said Caperton, whose Wildcats went 16-6 last year and tied for third with Savannah in the Orange League.
“She throws everything. She has an awesome fastball, a rise, drop, curve . . . she has a real nice changeup. She does every pitch.”
Cook, a senior who has been the starting pitcher all three years, went 15-6 last season and struck out 219 of 539 batters and had an ERA of 0.23.
“Right now we are playing together,” Caperton said. “We just won our own tournament Saturday for the first time in four years. That is a real good sign.
“Defense is the strength. We have the pitching and we have the defense, and our bats are coming alive. If we have patience at the plate, we’ll do just fine.”
9. GARDEN GROVE
Garden Grove has pitching depth. Junior pitcher Stephanie Smith plays on one of the top five traveling all-star teams in the country, the Ball Hawks, in the off-season and should return strong. Celeste Gordon, another solid pitcher, backs up Smith.
The Argonauts are quicker offensively than last season’s team that went 14-15 and placed third in the Garden Grove League under Coach Paula Cervantes. Shortstop Michelle Cash hit .325 last season as a freshman, and Garden Grove has a sound catcher in Becky Eggers.
10. MATER DEI
Fourth-year Coach Cathy Quesnell has three “really talented” freshmen in Jennifer Cline, Amy Moeller and Terri Kobata.
Kobata and Moeller will be the No. 1 and 2 pitchers, respectively.
The Monarchs have six returning starters from last year’s team that went 15-8-1, placed third in the Angelus League and lost to Cypress in the first round of the 4-A playoffs.
Returners Beth Lomeli and Tracy Rice will play left field and third base, respectively. Other returners are third baseman Sundy Mosqueda and shortstop Rose Imbriano.
Other teams to consider: La Quinta, Marina, Woodbridge, Villa Park and Savanna.