Softball preview: La Cañada High softball looks to reclaim league, postseason standing

While prognostications of a third consecutive CIF Southern Section championship were not exactly at the forefront leading into last season, missing out on the postseason all together was, indeed, a disappointment for the La Cañada High softball team.

Having returned seven starters from a team that had been a part of a Spartans squad which won its second straight CIF Southern Section Division V championship in 2012, the 2013 Spartans struggled in the circle, found themselves in a dogfight for Rio Hondo League standing and, ultimately, missed out on the postseason just as did neighboring Flintridge Prep and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy.

“Frustrating? Absolutely. Disappointing? No doubt about it,” said Spartans Coach KC Mathews about the 2013 season.

Nonetheless, much like last season, La Cañada returns a bevy of talent, led by the likes of senior shortstop Olivia Leyva, junior catcher Olivia Lam, senior second baseman Katy Lee, senior outfielder Brenna Gay and senior pitcher Maddy MacKenzie.

“I think this team is very capable of competing for a league championship,” said Mathews, whose team had its streak of four straight Rio Hondo League titles snapped last season and came up short of the Division IV playoffs after winning consecutive Division V titles. “And once you get in the playoffs, it’s anybody’s game.

“That’s our goal is to compete for a league championship and then make a run in the playoffs.”

Injuries and a subsequent lack of consistency in the lineup were obstacles that Mathews cites as hindrances to last season and pitfalls that must be avoided this year. However, things haven’t started off in the right direction as returning starter Alyssa Stolmack, a senior infielder/pitcher, is likely out for the season with an injury and Leyva, an All-Area and All-CIF pick a year ago, is still playing a vital role in the girls’ soccer team’s quest for a CIF championship.

Leyva hit .405 with team-highs of 30 runs batted in, 28 runs, seven doubles and six home runs and will be looked on as an offensive centerpiece yet again.

“We’re gonna need big things from her,” Mathews said.

Mathews also expects lofty contributions from sophomore third baseman Sammy Jedrey, sophomore outfielder Megan Reilly, junior pitcher Kellyn O’Leary and sophomore pitcher Hanna Heileson.

“We do have a lot of experience,” Mathews said. “That’s a big thing. Going through [winning CIF titles], even as a young player, you pick up a bit of experience.”

La Cañada finished Rio Hondo League play at 7-5 and in a three-way tie for second place behind league champion Temple City by one game. Tied with San Marino and Monrovia, the Spartans lost a coin flip to break the tie and determine automatic entrants into the playoffs and then, by virtue of its sub-.500 13-14 record, did not get a postseason bid.

Mathews believes the league should be equally competitive yet again.

“I think this really is anybody’s league,” he said. “I would expect a very similar, competitive league.”

Forecasting the 2014 season for Flintridge Sacred Heart, Tologs Coach Kirk Nishiyama believes the Mission League will be as arduous as ever and his team will be looking for experience on the fly.

“We’re young this year. We have two seniors,” said Nishiyama, whose squad finished with an 11-12-1 record a season ago and went 3-7 in league for fourth place behind league tri-champions Alemany, Chaminade and Harvard-Westlake, who were all 8-2. “It’ll be a rebuilding year for us.”

Nishiyama welcomes a core of four returning starters in juniors Hannah Zika at pitcher, Kaitlin Powers at third base and Sophia Coffey, who will move to the outfield. Senior Rachel Majich is also a returning starter who will move from second base to shortstop. Senior first baseman Lali Ortiz also got some starts a year ago and will be a regular in 2014.

Powers was an all-league pick last season who hit .427 with 18 runs and 25 runs batted in. She’ll be looked on to take on a lot of the production duties after the graduations of All-Area honorees Sumner Hanula and Kelly Jacobs. Another departure is that of all-league catcher Stasia McGregor, who was a three-year Tologs starter but will not return.

“We’ve been pretty much going back to basics,” Nishiyama said. “We’re in a very, very tough league. We play some very, very tough teams.

“But our goal is just to compete every time and get better every game.”

Flintridge Prep is coming off a three-win season in 2013, thus, Rebels Coach Julie Mejia’s aspirations are rather simple.

“We have to improve on last year,” said the veteran coach.

As in many seasons at Flintridge Prep, Mejia is forced to deal with low numbers and players balancing softball with other extra-curricular activities and school commitments. Still, she believes she has a valuable nucleus on board.

“We do have a solid core returning,” said Mejia , who lost All-Area selection Ashley Kim (.404 average, 25 RBI, 21 runs) to graduation. “We do have to improve on last year and make a run in league.”

Leading a hopeful run will be seniors Drew Montgomery, a pitcher, and Chelsea Johnson, a third baseman, who will hit in the heart of the order, along with junior shortstop Maddy Maker and sophomore catcher Alex Tutwiler. All four are among the eight returners Mejia has and the six returning starters.

Freshman pitcher Therese Orshiro could also be a potential difference-maker, as the ninth-grade hurler is emblematic of the strength and struggles of the team heading into the season.

“The biggest obstacle will be our youth and our lack of varsity experience,” said Mejia, who has eight players who are either freshman or new to varsity. “On the same token, that’s also our strength because there’s a lot of positive energy.”

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