Winner of Saugus-Valencia softball game takes early step toward repeat

Valencia pitcher Shea O'Leary has thrown two complete-game shutouts to open the Foothill League season. Signal file photo
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Valencia High pitcher Shea O’Leary has a mantra that takes about as long to read as it takes her fastball to reach home plate: Stay in your lane.

The phrase, endowed this season by Valencia coach Donna Lee and O’Leary’s mom, Carrie, aims to help O’Leary keep her throwing hand close to her hip as she whips toward a release.

The end goal is consistent accuracy.

Through two Foothill League games, O’Leary has been on point, a fact that has the Vikings seemingly in the fast lane toward a repeat title.

However, Valencia (14-7 overall, 2-0 in Foothill) will hit a telling checkpoint today when it hosts reigning co-champion Saugus (12-8, 2-0) at 3:15 p.m.

The teams split two games, and ultimately the title, last season.

“It’s huge,” said O’Leary, who struggled against Saugus in an early Foothill meeting last year but bounced back to throw a complete-game two-hitter in a late-season rematch. “They are a really good team. I know we need to go out there and need to have confidence and play our best game.”

In wins over Hart and West Ranch to open league play this year, O’Leary pitched two complete-game shutouts (the Hart game ended 10-0 after five innings), striking out 13 batters in the combined 12 innings.

It’s a continuation of a strong preleague campaign that Lee attributes to increased mental toughness.

Basically, O’Leary has done a better job of battling and remaining confident even when she doesn’t have her best stuff, like in a 2-1 loss to Agoura on March 7.

“You know what, she has gotten, in the last probably eight games, a lot mentally tougher,” Lee said. “She’s had to. It’s all about being able to make sure you work through the tough inning and tough batters. She’s done a really good job of that.”

Saugus showed mental toughness Thursday as it completed a 4-2 win over Golden Valley after Centurion pitcher Leslie Reynaga took a line drive to the face.

Reynaga suffered a fractured nose but not a concussion, according to Saugus coach Julie Archer, who elected not to comment Monday on Reynaga’s status for today’s game.

Archer has said she has confidence throwing any of her three main pitchers (Reynaga, freshman Libbie McMahan and junior Angeline Riley).

On Thursday, McMahan relieved Reynaga and tossed 4 2/3 innings of one-run relief.

Lee said the Vikings have been preparing for all three of Saugus’ options in the circle.

Oppositely, Archer said Monday that the Cents, for the most part, hadn’t prepared differently for O’Leary than they would for any other starter.

She did say that she put a little extra zip on the ball during front-toss batting practice, a close-range hitting drill where the “pitcher” tosses the ball from behind a screen.

“We’re not changing anything with our approach,” Archer said. “… We know she throws hard, but we’re just trying to prepare like we have been.”

Other games

West Ranch (7-11, 0-2) at Hart (12-7, 1-1), 3:15 p.m.

The Wildcats are looking for their first league win, and Hart is looking to build on Thursday’s walk-off 14-13 win over Canyon. According to MaxPreps, the Indians haven’t beaten the Wildcats since 2011.

Canyon (9-9, 0-2) at Golden Valley (10-7, 1-1), 3:15 p.m.

The last time these two teams met, Canyon scored 12 runs in the top of the seventh to beat the Grizzlies 20-12. Expect Golden Valley pitcher Cassidy Cangemi to keep a far tighter lid on the Cowboys this time around.

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