By Justin Vigil-Zuniga and Tyler Wainfeld
Signal Sports Writers
Softball season is finally here in the Santa Clarita Valley. The Foothill League is set for another exciting year with some talented teams ready to shoot for the crown.
League play began on Tuesday, so here’s everything you need to know about softball teams around the valley:
Saugus: Freshmen stars join the champs
The Foothill League champs may look a little different this season, but the goal remains the same: repeat.
Saugus graduated a pair of dominant pitchers last year who helped the team reach a 21-8 overall and perfect 12-0 league record. Centurions head coach Amanda Clark will try to fill the void the seniors left with a freshman duo.
Freshmen Taliya Mata and Kona Ramsbottom are looking like the Centurion aces for 2023, and perhaps even through 2026. Clark likes what she’s seen so far from the two and with returning catcher Kailey Stauffer behind the plate, the freshmen are well on their way to success.
“These girls are consistent, we expect big things,” Clark said. “We’re very scrappy, we have a lot of heart and we’re good at everything. We don’t have an overpowering pitching staff yet but when they are juniors and seniors, watch out. They’re good now but they’re going to be great.”
Madison Campeau returns to the team and will likely be one of the biggest bats in the Foothill League. Campeau will lead an offense with a ton of firepower, with Shae Sabedra, Hailey Salgado and Sammy Statlander at the plate. Salgado returns to the team after missing most of the season last year while Statlander has been on fire throughout the offseason for Saugus. Clark also thinks freshman Savanna Smith will surprise people this year.
The Centurions have dropped down to Division 2, so the team is forming more CIF expectations than in years past.
Clark knows the challenges of having a young roster but has seen all the benefits with such a group.
“This is a good group,” Clark said. “The challenge is just to get the younger girls to know they’re playing against 17- and 18-year-olds. Every time I challenge them, they rise to that challenge. They’re fearless in a way. Our juniors and seniors can get nervous, because they know the players, but our freshmen show no fear.”
Saugus was aiming to extend its 13-game win streak in Foothill League play on Tuesday, when the Centurions were set to welcome Valencia.
Valencia Vikings enter post-Lee era
A lot will be different this season for Valencia softball.
The team won’t have legendary coach Donna Lee in the dugout for a Foothill League game for the first time ever. The team also won’t feature a Paragas for the first time in eight seasons after the youngest of the four standout sisters graduated last year. The team also graduated its biggest graduating class in 2022 with nine seniors departing.
Sean Pollard will take on the reins of the program and already has the tools for another successful season of Viking softball.
Valencia is loaded with talent offensively with leaders like Hope Seper, Addie Snyder, Jeanelle Bacat and Carly Kearns.
Snyder, the team’s long-time catcher, has been an anchor at and behind the plate, earning herself a spot on the CSU Fullerton team next year.
Bacat, a shortstop, and Seper, a first baseman, will be tough outs at the plate while Kearns will deal damage offensively but also in the circle. The sophomore Kearns will lead the team from the pitcher spot along with junior Maggie Mrwoca.
The young team will also feature freshmen Blair Rune and Madison Stranchfield in big roles for the Vikings.
Valencia will look to reignite the dynasty on Tuesday when the Vikings head to Saugus.
Hart sees open window for league title
The Indians are loaded with returners this year but have had an up-and-down start to their season.
Hart is set to be in the running for a championship as head coach Steve Calendo believes the Foothill League title is within his grasp.
“I think the league is wide open,” Calendo said. “Saugus and Valencia are always strong. Canyon looks to be well improved and West Ranch has got some really good players. And I think we’re going to be very competitive. We should be right there and we won’t be overlooked. I think the kids play hard and play defense, we should be OK.”
Calendo will have two strong arms lead the group in the circle this season. Senior Emily Marr and sophomore Allison Specht will throw the majority of innings for the Indians.
Specht will also add a solid bat to a booming Hart offense. Seniors Kate Penberthy and Tenley Sweet will lead the group, after each batted over .550 last season with a combined 23 home runs. The Notre Dame-bound Sweet will lead off while the Cal Baptist-commit Penberthy will typically hit in the three hole.
Sophia Parra, Alexis Lopez and Rebecca Soto will be asked to deliver timely hits at the plate. Freshman Jessica Gutierrez is quickly establishing herself as one of the best Indian bats with her hot start to her high school career.
Hart is off to a solid start as the Indians’ four-game win streak has steered their momentum just ahead of league action.
The Indians open up league play on Thursday when the team heads to Golden Valley.
New-look Wildcats face a tough challenge
West Ranch softball will have somewhat of a new look this season.
The Wildcats (18-11, 6-6) lost five seniors from last year’s team, and head coach Phil Giarrizzo is hoping that some of the new faces will be able blend in with the returners and lead last year’s fourth-place team in the Foothill League back to the playoffs.
“We’re not as experienced as we were last year,” Giarrizzo said. “We’re getting there, but it’s gonna take a bit longer.”
The Wildcats will be leaning on a couple of seniors in Brooke Petretti and Francesca Decesare. The latter will be Giarrizzo’s ace in the circle after tossing 53.2 innings last season.
Around the diamond, juniors Krista Viereck and Savannah Gatewood provide plenty of offense. Viereck projects to be the starting center fielder and Gatewood is slotted in at middle infield along with Petretti. That trio in the middle of the field looks to be the strength of Giarrizzo’s squad.
“Experience, talent, heart to play the game,” Giarrizzo said. “They do what they’re asked to do every day.”
Viereck led last year’s team with seven home runs and 26 RBIs and was tied for second with 36 hits along with Gatewood, who led the team with six triples. Petretti was the team’s leader in runs with 32, just ahead of Gatewood’s 27 runs scored.
The rest of the roster sees a host of sophomores and juniors trying to solidify their places as regulars in the lineup. Giarrizzo is looking forward to seeing how those new pieces fit in and what they can bring not just for this season, but future ones as well.
“That’s actually something we’re looking forward to, to try and build from this,” Giarrizzo said.
West Ranch will be gunning for one of the four automatic playoff spots in the Foothill League. After that, the Wildcats are slotted into Division 3 for the Southern Section playoffs, a fitting place in Giarrizzo’s mind for his team after spending some time in Division 2.
“Based on what we lost last year, going into this year, Division 3 is where we belong,” Giarrizzo said. “Hopefully, we do well and we can stay there or even go higher.”
West Ranch softball is off to a slow start at 1-5 with Foothill League action starting to come around this week.
Canyon aiming for postseason
The Cowboys have all the tools of a playoff team — they’ll just have to get through one of the toughest leagues in Southern California to show that.
The team returns six starters with something to prove to Santa Clarita. Sophomore Jessica Carr and junior Gabby Wensley will share time in the circle again this season. Carr showed a lot of promise in her freshman year and earned a Foothill League Honorable Mention.
Phoenix Pair returns to center field and will be one of several key bats for Canyon. Danielle Rodriguez, Emily Benavidez and Bella Jimenez will be vital to the Cowboys’ success at the plate.
Canyon head coach Todd Wensley returns to lead the team, hopefully into the postseason.
Coach Wensley knows too well how tough the Foothill League can be, but believes he has a team that can make the postseason and snap a nine-year streak of missing the playoffs.
“We’re expecting great things this year with six returning starters,” he said. “We definitely should be good. I’m hoping we can make a run and get into the playoffs this year.”
Canyon will be busy in tournaments and non-league games before league play starts.
The team was aiming to sharpen all the tools before opening up league action at West Ranch on Tuesday.
Young Grizzlies talented but inexperienced
Golden Valley head coach Mike Rego had high praise for freshman Kal’ea Tindal.
“She will be the best freshmen to ever come out of this valley,” Rego said.
Tindal will have opportunity to flourish. The Grizzlies (2-19, 0-10) have no seniors on the roster, and Rego will be looking forward to seeing how his young team can battle in the Foothill League.
Along with Tindal, who is slotted to start in center field, Rego will have a couple of pitchers in junior Italia Ballestrasse and sophomore Cassandra Farrow who he thinks will be quality pieces to build on.
“Our pitchers are gonna have to pitch to contact,” Rego said. “We’re gonna have to play defense behind them. Neither one of them are overpowering strikeout pitchers, but they do hit their spots.”
Finishing off the battery, for the most part, will be junior Aliyah Clarke behind the plate.
Much of the 17-player roster comes into the season without much experience. Rego is hoping that the strides they have made in the preseason will become larger once they see what real games are like.
“They’re getting better at practice, but game experience is just, it’s a different speed,” Rego said. “Getting them reps at game speed is probably going to be their biggest challenge.”
There are no delusions of grandeur coming from Rego, who knows how tough it can be to compete in the Foothill League. What he’s hoping to accomplish is to teach his players about both winning and losing, and doing both in the right way.
“It’s going to look like the girls learned a lot about softball,” Rego said of what he wants to teach his players. “That they learned not to quit, no matter what the score is, if they’re up by 20 or down by 20, that the score is 0-0 and that they learn life lessons on how to compete and how to win with dignity and honor and how to lose the same way.”
Golden Valley softball will be hoping for some good fortune in the Foothill League after starting the season without a win in eight tries.
It’s all uphill from here at Castaic
Castaic Coyotes softball enters its second year of varsity with the program’s second head coach.
Garrett Leon will take over the program and look to get Castaic to compete with the big dogs in the Foothill League.
The team will feature its first seniors as two Coyotes prepare for their final seasons. Kayleigh Monge and Sophia Crawford will be leaders for the team in search of the program’s first league win.
Sophomore Olivia Rios will be the team’s main arm in the circle while Leon will lean on Crawford, Jassany Alamillo, Bella Daye and Brennan Cabunoc for hitting.
After a rough inaugural season, it’s all uphill from here for the Coyotes. Castaic will have its fair share of tests to compete in the Foothill League and time will tell if Leon can deliver some early wins for the young program.
The Coyotes were set to jump into league play on Tuesday, hosting Golden Valley.
Trinity out to improve with new coach
Holly Pacini is entering her first campaign as the head coach of the Trinity Classical Academy softball program, and she knows that there is work to be done.
The Knights (3-11, 0-8) enter the year without much experience, but also without having lost anyone as no seniors were on last year’s team. Pacini can count on a couple of seniors on this year’s team, including pitcher Vivi Haro, who Pacini knows very well, having coached her in some capacity for the last six years.
“We’re going to rely really heavily on her to throw strikes, and hopefully, she will be a leader as well,” Pacini said.
The Knights got a bit of a late start to their season preparations with multiple players also part of the Trinity girls’ basketball program that only recently wrapped up its season, including juniors Olivia Parrinello and Genesis Guzman and sophomore Gianna Duarte. Pacini will be hoping that their competitiveness on the court will translate to the same mentality on the softball field.
“Just their competitiveness and their natural athleticism, that is what I’m looking to utilize,” Pacini said. “Two of them are new to softball, Genesis Guzman and Gianna Duarte, but they are both just athletic and competitive in their other sports, and they’re multi-sport athletes, so I’m looking forward to having them, for sure.”
Freshman Sofia Previtire is another name that Pacini hopes to be talking about for years to come.
The job that Pacini hopes to achieve is to build the program up. She’s looking for players to make strides in their development and, she hopes, continue playing the game throughout their high school careers and make a name for Trinity softball.
“I’m excited. I think the group of girls is athletic enough and smart enough and young enough to make an impact this season,” Pacini said. “But, I know I’m looking like five years from now, really just trying to kind of rebuild, make it exciting, have some people want to come back and play, two, three, four years. That way we can just build from here on forward.”
Trinity softball got a late start to the season and had its first game on Monday, a lopsided loss at Castaic.
SCCS ready to compete with all freshman squad
Softball will return to Santa Clarita Christian this season with an incredibly rare feat: a varsity roster filled completely by freshmen.
Head coach Tim Brenner is excited for his “start-up program” to compete this year even with most girls being new to the sport.
“The girls who practiced this week are awesome,” Brenner said. “I appreciate their enthusiasm but most of our girls have never swung a bat nor put on a glove. The girls are putting in effort and learning to play this great game. There is really good team chemistry and lots of laughter. I’m grateful for exceptional families and consistent and capable coaching.”
The all-freshman squad will also be small in numbers with just 11 players rostered.
Brenner has years of coaching experience leading him to some modest expectations for the year.
The coach expects big years from Preslie Tucker and Clara Metro. The two will swap positions a lot this season as the pair both play shortstop and pitch.
Offensively, Carley Brenner and Alex Byrd will be key for the Cardinals’ success at the plate.
Time will tell if the freshmen are built for a run at a Heritage League title or a postseason run, but nonetheless, the excitement for the sport returning to SCCS is real.