Vaqueros set sights on conference title

When asked how this year's team looks, Glendale Community College softball Coach Dave "Hawk" Wilder didn't hesitate.

"I don't want to say this because it will probably jinx us, but I think this is going to be the best team Glendale has ever had," said Wilder, who's entering his 13th year as the head of the program.

Entering the season, Wilder has nothing left on the wish list for his team, which is composed of six sophomores, 10 freshmen and a handful of transfers that stand to make a big impact this year.

"Our hitting is solid, pitching, catching and defense is solid and we have so much speed it's incredible," Wilder said.

Given the talent the Vaqueros boast this year, they've set their eyes on coming out on top of the Western State Conference after they finished 14-23, 9-9 in conference in 2011.

"We want to win conference and whatever happens after that we will see — that's our main goal this year," Wilder said. "We want to go to state of course, but we have to take it one step at a time."

Brandy Morin, who was the team's No. 2 pitcher in 2011, returns to lead Glendale in the circle. She was an all-conference honorable mention last year after batting .337 (31-92) with eight runs batted in and eight stolen bases. She also had a 2-1 record, 2.80 earned-run average and 20 strikeouts in 20 innings of division competition.

Julia Ruiz, a sophomore transfer from Reedley College who stands at 5-foot-11, is the Vaqueros No. 2 pitcher this year.

The Vaqueros also pack some punch at the top of their lineup. Sophomores Nancy Pinedo and Morin fill the team's No. 1 and 2 slots, respectively, in the batting order. Pinedo will look for another big year after earning all-conference and California Community College Athletic Assn. All-Southern California accolades after hitting .471 with 16 stolen bases, 25 runs scored and a perfect fielding percentage from the leadoff spot last year.

Anchoring the lineup at the three and four slots are freshman catcher Jena Kaser and freshman third baseman and backup catcher Kitty Nguyen.

"I think our hitting will be the best it's ever been here," Wilder said. "Our hitting is solid and our speed is incredible. We have speed at the top and bottom and power in the middle."

Up the middle, GCC has freshman Ashley Suarez at shortstop and sophomore transfer from Midland College Adrienne Lozano at second.

Ruiz and freshman Cassandra Soto may end up sharing time at first base this season as both are currently battling for the starting position.

In center field, Glendale brings back sophomore Carley Zabka with freshman Mynia Bogan, who is also the team's No. 3 pitcher, backing her up. Sophomore Casey Nicodemus returns as the Vaqueros' left fielder and captain.

"We will see how we are — anything can happen," Wilder said. "I hate saying this is the best team we've ever had, but this team really likes each other and we have a strong bench. They can run and hit on the bench and that's something we haven't had before."

Crescenta Valley graduate and freshman Cece Martinez figures to see time off the bench for GCC this year as a backup infielder.

Wilder's squad faces an early measuring stick in its Glendale Tournament, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Glendale Sports Complex. The Vaqueros begin play with three games today — starting with Rio Hondo College at 9 a.m., followed by Pasadena City College and Grossmont at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.

"We will find out how good we are at our tournament," Wilder said. "Hopefully we can win it and we will be going somewhere."

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