Here's a look at how teams shape up heading into the high school softball league races:
NORTHWEST VALLEY CONFERENCE
El Camino Real High, defending City Section 4-A Division champion, has most of its starting lineup back and has a 4-1 record. The Conquistadores' only blemish is a 3-2 loss to Westlake. Freshman catcher Christina Enea is a quality replacement for Ramona Shelburne, the only starter El Camino Real lost from last year's team. Enea has played well defensively and leads the team with a .647 batting average. Sophomore right-hander Stephanie Frasco (4-1) has allowed 18 hits and three earned runs in 30 innings, with 30 strikeouts and one walk. Freshman designated hitter Danielle Baca is batting .571. . . . Taft (3-1) has gotten solid pitching from Andrea Sheaffer (3-1) and could improve on last year's third-place finish in the West Valley League with a consistent offense. Melissa Viramontes and Sarah Cartee have been Taft's best hitters. . . . Inexperienced Chatsworth (1-4), which starts only two seniors, features shortstop Gina Everett and pitchers Lisa Pink (0-1) and Karis Gant (1-2), a sophomore. Margot Nineberg is batting .500. . . . In the North Valley League, City 4-A runner-up Kennedy (5-2) is strong again. Pitcher Patty Del Real (4-2) is expected back this week from a hand injury. Back from ineligibility is Brandi Mercado, a third baseman who transferred from Granada Hills after playing for Kennedy in 1996. Sophomore Christina Garcia (.588) and freshman Briana Mathiesen (.529) have been bright spots. . . . Kennedy could be challenged by San Fernando (6-3). The Tigers' deep pitching staff features sophomores Michelle Raigoza (5-2) and Michelle Molina, and senior Ann Marie Herrera (1-1). San Fernando's top player is sophomore shortstop Sunshine Gallardo, a defensive standout who is batting .520. . . . Cleveland (3-0) has outscored opponents, 57-1. The Cavalier defense, anchored by catcher Morgan Bleimeyer and infielders Angela Veliz and Monique Abourched, has thrived behind freshman right-hander Kate Levin (3-0). . . . Although Granada Hills returns senior pitcher Amy Matthews (9-5, 0.72 earned-run average last season), the Highlanders are rebuilding after finishing second.
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1. El Camino Real
2. San Fernando
4. Granada Hills
VALLEY PAC-8 CONFERENCE
After finishing in a second-place tie in the Mid-Valley League last season, Sylmar (3-2) is looking to improve behind pitchers Nadine Traba (2-1) and Cassandra Acosta (1-1), a freshman. Veronica Ramos is batting .760 for the Spartans, followed by Stephanie Asidilla (.620) and Melody Prendez (.520). The biggest surprise has been No. 9 hitter Teresa Estrada, who is batting .425. . . . Monroe (2-3), defending Mid-Valley League champion, has lost to highly regarded Quartz Hill, El Camino Real and Kennedy. The Vikings lost All-City player Lupe Brambilia to graduation, but pitchers Cori Jordahl and Collette Chisholm are back and the defense is solid. . . . Sophomore right-hander Stephanie Yeatts has 31 strikeouts in 20 innings for Reseda (1-2), but the Regents' offense is shaky. Tawny Marquez (.571) and Yeatts (.429) are carrying the load. . . . Poly (1-2) also has struggled offensively, despite the return of Eileen Bermudez, who batted .379 last season. Freshman shortstop Diana Gamaros has been a defensive find and junior first baseman Gaby Gallardo, a volleyball standout, is expected to give the Parrots a boost. . . . In the East Valley League, Grant (3-1) appears much improved under first-year Coach Devin Ellison. Sarah Rothman, who led the region with a .674 batting average last season, returns along with Jillian Ward (.543). . . . North Hollywood (3-0) is off to a strong start under a new coach, Frank Galvan. The Huskies have benefited from solid defense led by freshman second baseman Claudia Andrade and junior center fielder Tashean Thomas. . . . Canoga Park (1-2) has gotten strong pitching from junior left-hander Jenny Pitillo, but the Hunters are breaking in a new infield.
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1. N. Hollywood
3. Van Nuys
4. Canoga Park
L.A. Baptist and Village Christian tied for the championship at 9-1 last season, splitting two games. With Village Christian returning eight starters, and L.A. Baptist seven, the teams should battle it out again. Village Christian (3-1) returns seniors Emilee Taritero (.524 last season), Jacklyn Aranda (.417) and Laura Robbins (.317) and sophomore Sarah Wheeler (.333), an all-league selection as a freshman. Aranda, a right-hander, struck out 17 in a five-inning no-hitter last week and had 12 strikeouts in a 6-5 loss to Louisville. Top players back for L.A. Baptist are Jennifer Duncan (.395 last season) and Nikki Girard (.391). The Knights expect big things from freshman infielder Kelly Feirfeil and sophomore infielder Jillian Rice.