SOUTHERN SECTION 4-A SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP : She's Making Her Pitch for a Title

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's little doubt that Garden Grove High School pitcher Stephanie Smith knows how to win. Just ask her opponents, who are hitting .077 against her.

Or you can ask Garden Grove Coach Paula Cervantes, who says Smith is the best all-around athlete she has coached.

Or ask her future college coach, who will be among those in attendance when Garden Grove plays Charter Oak in the Southern Section 4-A championship game at 8 Friday night at Mayfair Park in Lakewood.

"She has good velocity and excellent movement but most importantly she's a winner," said Ken Johnson, softball coach at the University of New Mexico, where Smith will play next season. "The bigger the ballgame, the less pressure she has on her shoulders, the more excited she gets and the more confidence she has in herself. She knows how to win.

"We plan on her coming in and pitching for us right away," Johnson said. "We were ranked 18th in the nation this year. We played one of the toughest schedules around and we think she is ready to come in and pitch for us right away. We think she's ready to handle that kind of situation."

If her statistics are any indication, Smith is at least ready to handle a more difficult situation than she had this season. With Smith figuring in every decision, the Argonauts racked up a 25-4-1 record on their way to the division final.

"She's probably the best all-around athlete I've coached," Cervantes said.

Smith has received the most recognition for one statistic in particular. She leads Orange County in strikeouts with 314.

Said Cervantes: "She has a good collection of pitches. She moves the ball around."

That collection includes a fastball, changeup, rise-ball, drop-ball, and a curve. Smith says she has no best pitch and uses all of her arsenal equally well.

On five occasions this season, she moved the ball around well enough to come away with no-hitters, two of which were perfect games.

But the strikeout pitcher may have a tougher time against Charter Oak. The Chargers' Kathi Evans will go into the final with a .700 on-base percentage and Charter Oak power-hitter Kelly Hunt has struck out only four times in four years of varsity softball.

Smith said she's not worried.

"Everybody can be struck out once," she said. "And if not, I'll get them to pop up or ground out."

Smith is even less concerned about the pressure of having her future college coaches on hand.

"I'm excited because they're coming out," Smith said. "I know they're confident in me because they signed me."

SOUTHERN SECTION 4-A SOFTBALL STARTING LINEUPS

Garden Grove Pos Charter Oak Stephanie Smith P Christy Tucker Becky Eggers C Shari Shultz Celleste Gordon 1B Jamie Elkins Kelly White 2B Julie Kuluk Brandie Noback 3B Kelly Hunt Michelle Cash SS Raylene Tomasso Nakia Houston LF Laurie Grey Briana Corona CF Kathi Evans Cari White RF Shannon Redhead Carol Blakeman DH Becky Champlin 25-4-1 Records 21-4

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