By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
Another exciting year of Foothill League softball is just around the corner. These mostly seasoned and two new head coaches will enter another marathon season with their teams in hopes of a league championship.
This athletic school year has seen a new face popping up in Foothill League matchups. Castaic High School now has sent several varsity teams into league action a year early after opening its campus doors to students in 2019. High schools typically have to wait four years before sending teams to varsity.
Most of the teams are having solid pre-seasons and appear to be shaping up for what will be another fantastic year of Foothill League softball.
The Vikings are looking to regrip the Foothill League by the throat after going undefeated last season and winning four out of the last five Foothill League titles dating back to 2016 (no league play in 2020). The Vikings (3-3-1) are heading into league action with a busy preseason of seven games already. The team lost a handful of players to transfers and graduation, including 2021 Foothill League Player of the Year Delaney Scully. However, head coach Donna Lee has seen her fair share of incredible talent graduate and has still managed to win repeatedly.
Scully anchored the Valencia infield last season and now Lee has some new faces starting from first to third.
“We’re trying to peak at the right time,” said Lee. “Our infield is getting better and better every game.”
The champs have some huge returning pieces with the most crucial being 2021 Foothill League Pitcher of the Year Casey Edwards. The team is also bringing back first teamer Addison Snyder who Lee regards as the best catcher in the Foothill League. Second-teamers Maia Paragas and Emma Seper will also enter their senior years with the Vikings. Paragas will make the move from outfield to shortstop while Seper’s bat will be key in the leadoff hole.
Lee is confident in her team and is just hoping the rookies can clean up the rookie mistakes. There are plenty of good hitters on this Vikings team and Lee is excited to see it all come together soon.
“Biggest thing offensively is we all need to click,” said Lee. “A couple girls are hot but when we get everybody going, we are going to be a team everyone’s going to be afraid of.”
Valencia has not lost a league game in almost three years and the Vikings will look to defend their crown when they travel to Castaic High School for the Foothill League opener at 3:15 p.m. Monday.
The Wildcats (7-1) have had an impressive start to their 2022 campaign, now winning seven of their first eight games. Fifth-year head coach Phil Giarrizzo seems to have made the biggest jump with his roster heading into 2022 league action. Last season the team finished fourth in the Foothill League and was led in hits by freshman duo Savannah Gatewood and Krista Viereck. Now, the sophomore duo along with 2021 first-teamer Addie Ferguson have this team rolling into league play with serious momentum.
“We’re a good hitting team, one through nine,” said Giarrizzo. “We’re hitting the heck out of the ball.”
The team has posted some impressive early wins, already beating El Camino Real and Newbury Park, both by scores of 3-1. West Ranch also came back from being down six runs to defeat Buena, 9-8, behind junior Brooke Petretti’s four-hit game.
The Wildcats have not won the league championship since 2015 when the team went all the way to the CIF championship game.
West Ranch heads to Canyon on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.
The Coyotes will be the biggest question mark heading into their inaugural season a year early. Head coach Jay Creps has been doing this for years, though, and is taking his first shot at starting a respected varsity program. The skipper has been coaching for more than 20 years, including coaching his daughter, Valencia and UCLA alumni, Olympian Jaisa Creps.
A bulk of the varsity team played in JV and frosh games last season as well as some fall ball before the school green-lit the varsity start this year. Creps thinks his infield will be good but will hope to see improvement in the outfield. But, no matter their finish, Creps said he’ll be proud of his team jumping into varsity Foothill League softball a year early.
So far Castaic is just 0-1 in nonleague action with a lopsided loss against Verdugo.
Castaic will have some solid batters in Sophia Crawford, Mallory Smith and Bella Daye. As well as “UCLA material” pitcher Savannah Lopata, according to Creps.
“[Our goal is] just to have fun, it doesn’t matter if we win or lose,” said Creps. “That’s all that’ll ever matter.”
Canyon is coming off a last-place finish in 2021 but it’s all looking up from here for second-year head coach Todd Wensley. The team is returning the bulk of its hitting in now-seniors Phoenix Pair, Danielle Rodriguez and Emily Benavidez. Wensley is high on his core, who all batted over .349 last season, especially Rodriguez as she is coming off a walk-off double in the team’s win over Highland. The rest of the team is young, most notably the underclass pitching staff of Jessica Carr and Gabriella Wensley.
“I think we’re still young,” said Wensley. “[The team is] still getting to know each other and learning dynamics of playing as a team.”
Wensley will also rely on junior Isabella Jimenez at the plate. The junior will look to take a leap after hitting .233 in 2021. Wensley has embraced the underdog role in his second year at the helm. The skipper acknowledged the Foothill League as top-heavy but believes in his team.
“I think we have a good shot of surprising some schools,” said Wensley. “I think we’re flying under the radar.”
Saugus had a good season last year, finishing second in the league with seven wins. The Centurions (3-1) have looked solid so far in their preseason, winning three of four. The team graduated two of its three first-teamers, retaining senior pitcher/infielder Alyssa Ramirez. Centurion head coach Amanda Clark is looking for a league title in her first year at the helm for Saugus. Clark is a Saugus alumna and has been with the team for several years. She was most notably part of the Centurions’ CIF championship in 1996.
Clark expects a lot from Ramirez as well as her two sophomore second-teamers, Hailey Salgado and Shae Sabedra. Sabedra is looking like the team’s biggest bat, according to Clark. Clark also believes the team is defensively sound and is zoning in on her team’s communication and hitting consistency.
Saugus last won the league title in 2019 and will need everything from everyone to dethrone Valencia.
“I think this team is a sneaky, scrappy, hard-working team,” said Clark. “The past few years we’ve had big players everyone has been scared of. But this team works well together. They play hard, hustle and play with a lot of heart.”
Saugus opens up league play Tuesday at Valencia at 3:15 p.m.
Hart had a solid 7-3 season last year under longtime head coach Steve Calendo. The Indians’ underclass surprised everyone at the plate with now-junior Kate Penberthy, sophomore Alexis Lopez and junior Tenley Sweet all named to the All-Foothill League team.
Calendo knows it’ll take everyone on the roster to win as he readies his team in their long preseason. The Indians (3-3) have a few more tournament games before opening up Foothill League action but Calendo acknowledged the challenges of the league.
“When you have league games with us, you can throw preseason out the window,” said Calendo. “The league is so competitive.”
The skipper was high on his three stars of Lopez, Penberthy and Sweet, regarding Sweet as the best outfielder in the Santa Clarita Valley. Calendo also noted junior Emily Marr will surprise some people.
Allison Howell will see a lot of time on the mound for Hart. The senior has spent a lot of time pitching in the Foothill League as she enters her fourth year of varsity.
“Our attitude is one where the girls are in it for the long run, and they’re enjoying each other,” said Calendo. “That’s important.”
Calendo thinks his team has a shot at a league title but needs his team to be and play more confidently.
Hart opens up league play Thursday at home when the Indians host Golden Valley at 3 p.m.
The Grizzlies have quite the mountain to climb this season. After graduating first-teamer Natalia Zuluaga-Ramirez, the team will look elsewhere for hits. Things will most likely start with captain Amyah Pierce as the senior hopes to rally her half-underclassmen team. Golden Valley is looking for its first winning season since 2018. Head coach Mike Rego is the shot caller in trying to rebuild the Grizzlies’ softball program.
Golden Valley (2-4) has an enthusiastic team with good energy. Rego wants his team to continue building their softball IQ as they have some good athletes but just need to sharpen the tools.
“We just want to win the games we think we can win, and have a winning record,” said Rego.
Golden Valley’s key players are expected to include Jazmin Smith, Aliyah Clarke and Italia Ballestrasse. Rego also thinks senior Amyah Pierre will surprise some people.