Glendale Community College softball raises expectations

After losing nearly its entire team from last year, the assumption might be the Glendale Community College softball team is lowering expectations from a 2012 when it put together the finest postseason run in program history.

That'd be wrong, Vaqueros Coach Dave “Hawk” Wilder said.

“State is the goal. We almost did it last year, hopefully we can do it again this year,” he said. “I think the expectations are higher.”

Glendale finished with a 30-15 record and qualified for the postseason for the first time in a decade last year after taking second in the Western State Conference's Blue Division with a 12-6 record. The Vaqueros went on to the California Community College Athletic Assn.'s Southern California Super Regionals and fell a game short of the Super Regional championship in a 3-2 loss to Mt. San Antonio College on May 12, 2012.

Jena Kaser returns to fill the role of catcher for Glendale this season after earning all-conference second-team honors in 2012, while batting .441 with eight homers, 42 runs batted in and an .811 slugging percentage.

“She should be an All-American this year; she’s our catcher and our captain,” Wilder said of Kaser. “She has been offered a lot of scholarships and we’re just looking to see how she does this season and what comes up for her.”

But after Kaser, there’s certainly a new make-up to the team.

Things will look different for the Vaqueros in the 2013 season, which kicks off Friday with the Glendale Tournament at the Glendale Sports Complex. GCC begins Western Conference play with a doubleheader against L.A. Mission College March 7 beginning at 1 p.m.

Glendale relied heavily on its sophomore pitcher Brandy Morin to keep it in games and protect leads last year. Wilder hopes Katie Bakhshian, a freshman from Immaculate Heart, and Kayla Evans, a sophomore transfer from Humboldt State, will have similar success and give the Vaqs depth in the circle this year.

Gone is the Vaqueros’ power-hitting lineup of last year that was highlighted by third baseman Kitty Nguyen, who now plays at Cal State San Bernardino, and Morin, but they should have the consistency and speed to remain a potent offensive team.

“I think our strength, our major strength, is pitching and hitting,” Wilder said. “I think we’ll be better off hitting this year. We don't have as much power, but I think we’ll have better hitting in our lineup top to bottom. We also lucked out with some real fast, speedy girls.”

Amanda Zepeda will likely replace Nancy Pinedo, who's also now at San Bernadino, as GCC's leadoff hitter. Zepeda will use her speed in center field and make up a young outfield trio, alongside Yvonne Lemus and Sofia Garcia in right and left field, respectively.

“We ended up with a lot of speed in the outfield,” Wilder said. “We are going to have a good outfield, but they’re all going to be freshmen.”

What Wilder is also excited about is the infield group he has set up for this season.

Megumi Furuta from Japan will start at third base; Amanda Carriedo of Birmingham High takes over at second base and sophomore Vanessa Mendoza, who graduated from Hoover High and played a year of community college softball about 10 years ago, will field shortstop. Claire Ortiz, who played shortstop at Crescenta Valley High last year, shifts over to first base.

“We ended up with a solid infield this year,” said Wilder, who expects the group to be solid at the plate and in the field. “We lost a little in the outfield this year, but what we’re going to miss in the outfield or with pitching we're going to make up for in the infield.”

While it would seem to be bad news for GCC that Kaser is the lone returning starter from what Wilder called the best team in program history when the 2012 season ended, the coach's confidence is unshaken.

“We've had some really good recruiting in recent years,” said Wilder, whose assistant coach Sal Pizzo heads up the recruiting. “We only have 13 girls on our team this year, but it’s a solid 13.”

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