For four seasons, Lauren Watson wore a catcher's mask, but it might as well have been a construction helmet,
Watson, The Times' Valley softball player of the year, Ekes to build things.
And she's good at it.
When she arrived at Valencia High, she found a third-year varsity program striving for its first winning season. She leaves with Valencia ranked No. 2 in the region and with a Foothill League championship.
"Four years ago, I could have gone to any school [in Santa Clarita]," Watson said. "But I didn't want to go to a school that had won for 10 years. I wanted to go somewhere that I could be one of the building blocks."
Watson wasn't a building block, She was the cornerstone.
Her cannon-like arm went virtually unchallenged.
At times, so did her bat. In a 1-0 loss to Esperanza in the Southern Section playoffs last month, Watson walked twice, never getting a pitch to hit.
"We weren't going to let her beat us," Esperanza Coach Dennis Fox said,
With Watson batting third and catching a young pitching staff, the Vikings finished 25-5 and claimed their first league championship with a 10-0 record.
A career .422 batter, she batted .427 this season with four home runs and 23 runs batted in, striking out only once in 82 at-bats.
Watson capped a memorable senior season with a home run in the San Fernando Valley ill-star game, winning most valuable player honors days after being selected Valencia's female athlete of the year.
"As a freshman, we knew she would be a force," Coach Donna Lee said. "And she got better and better every year. This year was better than any of them."
Valencia hasn't determined how many records Watson set, but the school is sure she has the most home runs (114), RBIs (73), hits (149) and at-bats (353).
Watson has graduated, but her building continues.
She has committed to Brigham Young, a fledgling Division I program.
"I'm really going to miss Valencia," she said. "But I'm looking forward to the challenge ahead."
Melissa Coogan: El Camino Real, Sr., Pitcher. The Hawaii-bound right-hander pitched all but two innings for the Conquistadores and finished 25-7 with a 0.46 ERA. Coogan struck out 278 and walked 31 in 215 innings.
Amanda De La Cerda: Notre Dame, Sr., Pitcher. The Mission League player of the year was 19-6 with a 0.41 ERA and led the Knights with four triples and 13 stolen bases.
Tori Rocco : Valencia, Soph., Pitcher. The Foothill League most valuable player was 18-4 with a 0.46 ERA and twice defeated Hart to help the Vikings win their first league championship.
Christina Lupacchini: Chaminade, Jr., Pitcher. The Mission League pitcher of the year led the Eagles to the league title and No. I seeding in the Division IV playoffs. She was 16-5 with 161 strikeouts and a 0.63 ERA.
Sara Gonzales: Paraclete, Jr., Pitcher. She led the Spirits to the Division V final by pitching 20 shutouts, four in the playoffs. Gonzales finished 223 with 230 strikeouts and a 0.19 ERA, and was the Alpha League co-MVP.
Christina Ena: El Camino Real, Sr., Catcher. The four-year All-Valley selection is headed to Oklahoma after batting .368 with 39 hits and 22 RBIs. In four seasons, Enea batted .473 with 24 home runs and 134 RBIs.