It's softball season, which means it's time to watch Foothill run. Like a Dick and Jane primer, it reads pretty simply.
"Watch Michelle Churnock get on base. Watch her steal second. Go, Michelle, go.
"See Lauren Bauer. Watch her bunt the ball. See it rolling down the third-base line. Roll, ball, roll. See Michelle on third base? Oops, Lauren just took second."
No team in Orange County has more speed or optimism than the Knights. They didn't lose a single player from last year's team to graduation. They lost their only senior during the campaign, when Amy Tessman quit without explanation at midseason.
Despite losing Tessman--one of the county's best pitchers--Foothill still reached the Division I championship game. How much better can it get than that?
Churnock had a fantastic year. Leading off for the Knights through the championship game against Marina, she batted .510 with 34 stolen bases and 36 runs scored.
Batting behind Churnock was center fielder Carley Rutledge, who hit .279 and stole eight bases.
Batting eighth was then-sophomore right fielder Marisa Holmes, who hit .170 and stole nine bases in 12 attempts.
Batting ninth was freshman left fielder Lauren Bauer, who hit .370 with 23 stolen bases.
All four bat left-handed. All are a year older and presumably a year better.
When you put them together, they make a pretty decent 400-meter relay team too. Without much practice--the softball season is concurrent with the track season--the Foothill Four competed as a team in the Century League track finals. They finished third, but were disqualified because of a baton exchange violation.
But they proved their point: They're very fast.
Add Foothill Flash
Foothill has always relied on speed and defense, and this season will be no different. But the Knights also have the potential for some power. An example of that might be the section quarterfinals, when Tara Lawrence drove a ball deep to right field for a two-run triple--and then deep to right-center for another two-run triple--off Los Alamitos pitcher Debbie Wilson (15-2) in a 7-4 upset of the second-seeded Griffins. Lawrence was batting .175 at the time with 10 strikeouts in 40 at-bats. Lawrence is a junior this year. There was one other triple in the game--by Robin Tessman, now a sophomore.
Just how good will softball be this year in Orange County? Six of the county's seven earned-run average leaders from last season are back. The only exception is Whittier Christian's Deborah Goddu, who was 8-8 with a 0.33 ERA during her senior year.
The four pitchers whose ERA during the regular season was lower than Goddu's are Pacifica's Toni Mascarenas (0.11), Ocean View's Kathy Ponce (0.20), Villa Park's Brandee McArthur (0.23) and Marina's Marcy Crouch (0.30).
Just behind Goddu are Sunny Hills' Jennifer Deane (0.36) and Kennedy's Lisa Pitt (0.37).
Mascarenas is a sophomore and Deane is a junior.
While We're on the Subject
Not included among the pitchers with the lowest ERAs in the county are Angie Fancuberta, who was 14-12 with a 0.62 ERA before pitching Fullerton to the Southern Section Division III title, and Foothill junior Marie Gieron, who was 9-4 with a 0.51 ERA before pitching Foothill into the Division I title game.
Players to Watch
Returning players who were on The Times All-County team last year are Stanford-bound Crouch, Marina first baseman Lynette Velazquez, Kennedy pitcher Lisa Pitt, Ocean View pitcher Kathy Ponce, Foothill shortstop Michelle Churnock, Los Alamitos shortstop Michelle Schneider (Stanford) and El Toro outfielder Dana Gulick.
Those second-team selections who are back are Mascarenas, McArthur (Pacific), Marina catcher Heather Williams (Michigan State), El Dorado shortstop Nikki Hart (Oregon State), Foothill outfielder Lauren Bauer, Fountain Valley outfielder Lindsey Collins, Aliso Niguel shortstop Stefanie Ruiz and Fountain Valley pitcher/second baseman Lynea Backlund (Iowa State).
Where They're Headed
There are other talented players who will earn athletic scholarships. They include Fountain Valley's Laurie Gillis (Northwestern), Orange Lutheran's Michelle Harrison (Southwest Texas State), Kelly Tom (Ohio State), Irvine's Shye Nakabayashi (Seton Hall), Los Alamitos' Amanda Peterson (Northwestern) and Jennifer Slaney (Fresno State), Sunny Hills' Megumi Takasaki (California) and Cypress' Julie Adams (UCLA).
Looking out for No. 1
For those looking for a little order in their lives:
5. Fountain Valley
6. Ocean View
9. Mater Dei
10. El Dorado
Teams on the cusp include Villa Park, Los Alamitos, Garden Grove and Cypress.
Young Guns . . . or Young 'uns
Mater Dei has four freshmen in the starting lineup, and Coach Doug Myers said it's a great class. Among those who could prove to be freshman phenoms are catcher Courtney Ryan and shortstop Robin Walker.
Rounding out the freshman varsity class are Kelsey Kollen, second base; Monica Lucatero, first base; Briana Lemos, third base; and Jodi Schicker, center field.
"At least six of my freshmen will receive Division I scholarships when they graduate," Myers said.
And fueling the complaints that the school has an advantage over others by not having attendance boundaries, Schicker comes from Corona, Kollen from Cerritos and Walker from La Palma.
While We're on the Subject
Everyone moans about Mater Dei's "recruiting boundaries," but the Monarchs lose players, too. Sophomores Laura and Lesley Fulton transferred from Mater Dei to Rosary. Both made the Monarch varsity, said Rosary Coach Tom Tice. Laura plays second base/pitcher, and Lesley plays third base/pitcher. Yes, they're twins, and they're pretty good.
Despite the talented freshmen, Mater Dei still will get most of its offense from holdovers Lisa Tully (.420), Paige Kollen (.363), Margaret Hollis (.350), Shealee Dunavan (.325), Kendra Meano (.314) and Katie Chauvin (.283).
The Monarchs also will be stronger defensively than last year because more players are playing in their natural positions. However, they are breaking in an inexperienced pitcher, Colleen Boddie (5-1 last year).
The Biggest Shoes to Fill
Woodbridge center fielder Alison Johnsen was The Times' Orange County player of the year in 1994, batting .619 with 38 runs, 12 RBIs and 53 stolen bases in 26 regular-season games. By the time the playoffs were over, she amassed in her four-year varsity career a section-record 196 steals and a .469 batting average. She shattered the career stolen-base mark by 19; she is first and fifth in the Southern Section record book for steals in a season (63 in 1993, 55 in '94).
She also is second for runs scored in a season (52 in '93); second and seventh for hits in a season (57 in '94, 52 in '93) and third for his in a career (169).
No one can replace her, but freshman second baseman Nichole Thompson will try; she will bat leadoff for the Warriors--and wear Johnsen's No. 16 jersey.
Other Shoes to Fill
Los Alamitos must replace sisters Debbie (14-1, 0.41 ERA) and Carolyn Wilson (.333, 22 RBIs). . . . Mater Dei must replace Candace Kollen (.526, 15 RBIs). . . . Capistrano Valley must replace Jodi Morris (.494). . . . Huntington Beach must replace Stefanie Noffsinger (8-3, 0.10 ERA). . . . Rosary must replace Nicola Walsh (.475; 8-2, 0.56 ERA), . . . . Laguna Hills must replace Alycia Stevens (.542). . . . Canyon must replace Nina Lindenberg (.386). . . . El Toro must replace Misty Lauby (16-5, 184 strikeouts, 0.55 ERA). . . . Cypress must replace Christa Saindon (.357). . . . Orange must replace Chris Puccio (.391). . . . Costa Mesa must replace Tabby Cleveland (.542, 39 stolen bases). . . . Kennedy must replace Laurie Fritz (.380). . . . Ocean View must replace Racquel Willson (defensive catcher) and Janee Sansone (.365).
And on the Subject of Freshmen
Other talented freshmen who could contribute in key roles include two pitchers, Pacifica's Amanda Freed and Woodbridge's Christy Robitaille, as well as Woodbridge's Thompson--who was the offensive player of the Fullerton tournament.
Armed and Dangerous
Rosary catcher Kathleen Celio picked off 18 runners last year, but Celio isn't the only quality catcher out there; the county's loaded with them.
Among the best are Marina's Williams, who one coach said throws the ball harder than anyone, Fountain Valley's Collins ("the best athlete playing catcher"), El Toro's Kelli Bruce and Fullerton's Kiki McAulay.
The Rich Get Richer
Defending Division I champion Marina lost three starters--the Vikings lost junior third baseman Heather Hibben on Monday because of bronchitis and pneumonitis (lung inflammation)--but have filled the gaps with two all-league players: Angela Burke transferred from Ocean View after batting .339 in the Sunset League, and power-hitting infielder Monica Mora, who transferred from Banning of the Skyline League.
One for the Thumb
Crouch had four wisdom teeth pulled last Tuesday, one for every Southern Section title she has won. Crouch led Marina to its third consecutive Division I girls' soccer title March 4, meaning she will get another late start for softball this year. But that shouldn't be too much of a burden; she pitched Marina to the Division I softball title last year, and is expected to do the same this year.
Coaches around the county agree: She's the consummate big-game player.
Who Got What in the Overhaul
The Garden Grove League won't be as strong with the loss of Kennedy's program. Neither will the Empire League, which added Kennedy and Century, but lost Los Alamitos and Esperanza. Neither will the South Coast League, which lost El Toro but picked up Trabuco Hills.
The newly formed Golden West League will be more competitive than last year only because it didn't exist last year. So will the Sea View League because it picked up El Toro and lost Tustin, Saddleback and University. So will the Sunset League, which picked up Los Alamitos and Esperanza and lost Ocean View, Rosary, Santa Ana and Westminster.
The Pacific Coast League will be about the same because it picked up Aliso Niguel and University but lost Trabuco Hills and Century.
Tom Tice, Rosary coach, on Crouch, Williams, Velazquez and Faith Fuata of Marina: "We don't miss the Sunset League at all."
Infamy Gets an Assist
One of the county's most underrated players may be Fountain Valley's Collins, but no one really knew her until one nearly tragic moment. "If she hadn't broken Stefanie Noffsinger's face (with a line drive)," Tice said, "she wouldn't have been All-CIF or All-County."
By the Way . . .
* Mascarenas, a sophomore pitcher, Adams, a senior shortstop, McArthur and Collins made the junior U.S. National team and will compete in international competition over the summer.
* Trabuco Hills' Theresa Summa (.243) isn't playing this year. Neither is junior center fielder Ricia Gonnering (.302). Both decided to concentrate on soccer.
* Capistrano Valley has an outstanding prospect, sophomore Rachel Forbes, who played four games last year, batted .672 and stole four bases. Then she broke her leg--on a trampoline.
* Every coach hopes her players get a scholarship. Irvine's Lisa Baker is no different. But senior outfielder Kim Fisher took her early scholarship and left at semester break to attend Rhode Island.
* Both Stephanie Bernritter and Jackie Sukiasian of Woodbridge threw two perfect games last year. Sukiasian, now a junior, is back; Bernritter, a sophomore, chose not to play.
Winning Isn't the Only Thing?
Los Amigos didn't win any games last year, but the program made an impact on junior Dorothy Taula, according to Coach Tom Wills.
In fact, he described Taula as "big and loud" as she struggled in the classroom as a freshman. But Taula found her niche in the softball program and discovered she had some raw talent.
Tina Satele had similar classroom struggles, but developed her self-confidence through the softball program and improved herself in the classroom and on the field.
"Working with young ladies like Dorothy and Tina, seeing their growth in all areas of life, more than compensates for some of the frustrations of coaching," Wills said. "I'm looking forward to seeing both Dorothy and Tina playing in college and completing their college education with pride."
Inquiring Minds Want to Know
* Can Woodbridge replace Johnsen, who was basically worth a triple every time she got to first base with no one on base?
* Now that Kennedy's out of the Garden Grove League, opening it up for Pacifica to dominate, will the Mariners lose their competitive edge?
* How big will the Kennedy-Cypress rivalry become now that both teams are in the Empire League?
* How soon will Aliso Niguel mature to become a PCL and possible county power?
* What effect will Coach Paula Cervantes' departure from Garden Grove after 11 years and a 223-95-2 record have on the program?
* Will batting averages continue to rise as parents continue to keep score?