The key to a successful softball season for Glendale Community College will likely be determined through growth, focus and balance.
For coach Sal Pizzo, who is in his the sixth year, looks to bring out the best in his players for the 2019 season.
After bringing in another sizable group of freshmen to the team, Pizzo knows it will take some time and effort for the Vaqueros to be successful.
“It’s a young team,” Pizzo said. “You always try to make sure that they don’t come out and [act] like the stage is too big for them, like they’re kind of awed in the beginning.
“We just want them to believe in themselves and I feel like this is a group that will follow that plan.”
Glendale will again square up against tough conference competition in the Western State East Division. The Vaqueros finished 6-32-1, 3-13 in conference last season.
Glendale finished eighth in the division that features Antelope Valley, Barstow, Citrus, L.A. Mission, L.A. Valley, Victor Valley, West L.A. and undefeated, conference champion College of the Canyons.
Glendale’s season began Friday against L.A. Harbor as part of the 15th annual Dave “Hawk” Wilder Tournament at the Glendale Sports Complex.
The Vaqueros start conference play against L.A. Valley on March 5.
“We had a meeting the other day and we talked about the challenges of conference,” Pizzo said. “College of the Canyons is always strong. Antelope Valley has been very strong and competitive the last several years, so we play in a tough conference.
“All we can do is put our best foot forward. I feel like what I always tell my teams is that I want us to be the smartest team out there and if we don’t beat ourselves and we do the little things, we can overcome and win some games against maybe more talented teams if we just execute and play smarter. So that’s kind of our approach. Just stay confident, be aggressive.”
The Vaqueros welcome nine freshmen to a roster that has dwindled due to a number of reasons, but, nevertheless, Pizzo will seek balance throughout the squad.
“This year, we had a couple of players, right near the end of the fall, for personal or family reasons, decided they weren’t going to be able to make the commitment,” Pizzo said. “We had a couple of other players that are injured that would’ve been returners, so we have the potential for about five or six returners, but as of right now, we only have two.”
Pizzo will rely on his only two returners in Eve Ramirez and Leslie Gonzalez.
Last season, Ramirez played 38 games and had 19 hits in 88 at-bats, hitting .216 . The right-handed sophomore also contributed 16 runs, eight runs batted in, seven stolen bases and is slated to be the Vaqueros’ starting center fielder.
“Eve is actually one of our captains this year and I expect her to really emerge,” Pizzo said. “She’s a versatile player. As of right now, she’s going to start in center field, but she can play some infield, and we need to be a little flexible with a smaller roster. But, right now, she’s plugged to start as a center fielder and I expect her to be an impact player for sure.”
Gonzalez, a right-handed player who will patrol second base, saw sporadic play time last season with five at-bats.
Pizzo will work in a new pitching core that will likely be led by freshman Arlene Barahona.
Barahona hasn’t played a competitive softball game in three years, however, Pizzo said she has impressed the coaching staff.
“She decided she wanted to play and we brought her in, and what we’ve seen in the short time she’s been with us, she has potential to be No. 1 pitcher,” Pizzo said. “There’s been a couple-year gap where she hasn’t really played at a competitive level other than going back to play in their alumni games, but we brought her in and we’re proud. I was actually amazed at how little rust there was from what I might’ve expected.”
Hoover graduate and former All-Pacific League selection Olivia Jukes is joining the pitching rotation. When Barahona is in the circle Jukes will be at shortstop.
Jukes’ offers more than versatility, Pizzo said, and the freshman’s attitude has earned her the co-captain title, the program’s first freshman to hold the leadership role.
“She’s come in with a level of maturity that you usually don’t see a freshman come in with,” Pizzo said. “She’s very focused, she’s very organized, she works hard, she’ll speak up when she needs to, but will lead by example. I felt like all those elements really made her a candidate to be a great captain.”
Freshman Reagan Atallah completes the pitching rotation.
A big component in the Vaqueros’ defense will be freshman Megan Gamboa, who is projected to play first base and in the outfield.
Another player who will factor in the Glendale fielding rotation will be Crescenta Valley product Isabelle Avanosian, who played second base and outfield for the Falcons.
“Defensively, we have pitchers that can throw strikes, but they’re not pitchers that are overpowering and that are going to get a lot of strikeouts,” Pizzo said. “They’re going to be a lot of balls put in play and so we’re striving to just do the work in order to have that attitude.”
The combination of players will look to improve the team’s statistical average from last year, where the Vaqueros batted .314, posted a .436 slugging percentage and recorded a .397 on base percentage with 196 runs batted in.
“Honestly, my philosophy, you have to have a couple of [the power-typed stats] in the middle of your lineup, but, we strive to be more of a balanced team that can manufacture runs, especially on our field in which we don’t have a conventional fence,” said Pizzo on his offensive approach. “It’s a big park, so we’re not going to be hitting a lot of balls out of the park, so we want to be gap hitters and that kind of thing.