The Marina High softball team may have surprised some people at last weekend’s Dave Kops Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Ariz.
The Vikings upset Hamilton (Ariz.), at the time ranked No. 15 in the nation by Maxpreps.com, 9-7 in their third tournament game to make the semifinals. Junior pitcher Emily Rush was at the forefront of the attack, hitting a three-run home run in the first inning.
Marina finished fourth in the tournament, although the competition Saturday was again top-notch. The Vikings pushed Norco, the defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champion, to nine innings in a tournament semifinal game before falling 4-2. They jumped ahead of Orange Lutheran, at the time the top-ranked team in Orange County, in the third-place game before losing 5-2.
“A tough day,” Rush said with a laugh.
Rush is the pitcher that the Vikings count on, but the junior is more than that. She’s also the team’s cleanup hitter.
“A lot of times there’s double pressure on her,” said Shelly Luth, the Vikings co-head coach along with Dan Hay. “Not many pitchers are No. 4 batters, and can get it done defensively and offensively for us.”
Rush is that player for Marina (9-4). She has been building for this since her freshman year, when she was cast into the starting role after Amber Baldwin, who now plays at Middle Tennessee State, suffered a back injury.
“I was so nervous,” she said. “I was so young, playing against all of these older girls. It just was overwhelming at first but I got used to it.”
It’s not like Rush didn’t have the experience. She started playing softball at age 5, travel ball by 10. Joining the sport at a young age made sense, as her mom, Kris, played softball at Pacifica.
Emily Rush said she mainly throws screwballs and curveballs, attempting to paint the outside corner. But she will also mix in a lot of changeups or drop balls.
She sets the tone for the Vikings, not just in the games but also in practice.
“Emily is a competitor minute one,” Luth said. “I mean, she is game on the second she shows up. Even in practice, when we say, ‘Hey Emily, go to center field,’ she’ll sprint out there. She gives 100% all the time. She never comes to practice not ready. She never gets in a game and isn’t competing to win and be the best.”
Rush said she’s happy with the way the team is performing so far. Pitching against a team like Norco, which has strong batters throughout its lineup, is a challenge for a pitcher. Rush had to stay focused against the Cougars (15-0), the top-ranked team in the country by Maxpreps.
A mistake could easily have meant a home run, but she held Norco to two runs through regulation.
“We were up 2-0, and we went nine innings with them, which is really good,” Rush said. “Every single one of their batters is good. I try to intimidate them, I guess, try to make them more scared of me. If [the pitch] is called inside, I just try to throw it as close as I can to them. Not hitting them, but as close as I can. It’s just to let them know, ‘Hey, I’m OK with hitting you, it’s fine, I’m not scared of you.’ that kind of thing.”
Sophomore second baseman Taylor Lane was another hot hitter in the tournament for Marina. Lane was three for three with a double and a home run in the victory over Hamilton. She’s part of a stellar infield overall for Marina with senior first baseman Shayla Thomas, senior shortstop Nicole Logrecco and sophomore third baseman Briana Gonzalez. Thomas is headed to Cal State Northridge, while Logrecco will play for Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.
Rush’s battery mate, for the second straight year, is junior catcher Jacey Henderson.
“She’s one of our leaders,” Lane said of Rush. “She starts off the game and sets the mood … Emily gets a lot of ground balls on the infield. It’s hard to get all of them, but for the most part we get a lot of plays done for her to help her out.”
Marina starts Surf League play Tuesday, when it plays at Edison. The other two teams in the league, Huntington Beach and Los Alamitos, are ranked Nos. 3 and 7 in the country, respectively, by Maxpreps. Los Alamitos was a finalist at the Tournament of Champions.
“It’s going to be very challenging to try and make that top spot, but I’m very confident in my team and what we can do,” Rush said. “I think we’re going to do fairly well against them.”
Rush has given the Vikings reason to have confidence.
Born: Aug. 5, 2002
Hometown: Garden Grove
Height: 5 feet 8
Coaches: Shelly Luth and Dan Hay
Favorite food: Tacos
Favorite movie: “Gran Torino”
Favorite athletic moment: Going 11 innings with Los Alamitos last year in a Sunset League game.