It might be hard for opponents of the Chapman softball team to believe, but Susan Caton is just getting back into this softball thing.
Caton, the Panthers’ leadoff hitter, is batting .446, with an on-base percentage of better than .550, and she has scored 29 runs and driven in 12.
And she plays a mean center field.
A few months ago, however, Caton wasn’t even on the team. She tried out almost on a whim. Caton had mentioned to a sorority sister, Kim Gray, that she had played at Irvine High School several years back. Gray happened to be an infielder for the Panthers.
Late last fall, Chapman coaches didn’t expect much when Caton tried out.
One of her first throws from the outfield to home plate was a strike. There were no more skeptics.
“Usually, I don’t have much luck with the people I try out,” Chapman assistant coach Janet Lloyd said. “But when she got out there, I said, ‘Oh my God, Susan, where have you been?’ She’s probably one of the best outfielders we’ve ever had. She’s definitely the quickest.”
Caton helped Irvine to the playoffs in her junior and senior seasons. After graduating in 1990, she planned to play at Saddleback College, but after a couple weeks of practice she decided it wasn’t for her.
So other than playing in a slow-pitch league with her co-workers at Disneyland, Caton stayed away from softball during her 2 1/2 years at Saddleback and Irvine Valley. Softball wasn’t in her plans at Chapman, either, but she’s doing so well and having so much fun that she is thinking about prolonging her academic schedule so she can play again next year.
“It’s been really great,” Caton said. “And I’ve never hit so well. My batting has always been terrible.”
Caton, who said she batted in the low .200’s or high .100’s in high school, credits the Chapman coaching staff with getting her going at the plate. Lloyd and her father, Coach Lisle Lloyd, decided Caton should bat left-handed to take advantage of her speed.
“Janet and Lisle have done a good job with me,” Caton said. “They had me try to bat left-handed in high school but they kept saying, ‘Go right, go left, go right, go left’ until I couldn’t hit either way.”
Because of a season-ending rotator cuff injury to pitcher Leslie Gerbin, Caton has also been called upon to pitch for the Panthers. She is 2-0, giving up only three hits and one run in nine innings.
Chapman has plenty of standout players, which has the coaches excited at the prospect of becoming a full-fledged NCAA Division III program next season.
Rene Hernandez, a senior catcher from Los Amigos High, leads the team with a .464 average. Hernandez, the NAIA District 3 player of the year for Southern California College last year, transferred to Chapman at the semester break.
Bernie Fancuberta, a freshman pitcher from Sunny Hills High, is 10-7 and was named most valuable player of the Redlands tournament last weekend. The Panthers (22-11), who lost only one of seven tournament games, avenged their only loss by beating Gustavus Adolphus (Minn.), 4-1, in the championship game.
The victory over the Gusties moved Lisle Lloyd within three of his 400th victory as a college coach. In 13 seasons, including one at Christ College, Lloyd is 397-261-1. He could reach the milestone in the UC San Diego tournament next week.
Southern California College’s Augie Pena was named NAIA District 3 baseball player of the week. Pena batted .364 with four home runs, drove in six runs, scored five and had a victory and a save for the Vanguards, who won four of their six games. . . . Chapman’s Jolee Lautaret set a school high jump record by clearing 4 feet 9 3/4 inches Saturday at UC San Diego. Lautaret, a freshman who also plays for the women’s basketball team, broke the record of 4-8 set by Lili Bess in 1987.