Here's another installment of my softball previews ...
At the end of last season, most softball fans looking ahead to 2013 pointed to Pleasant Grove as perhaps the team to beat. Potentially, they were going to have the best line-up in the Delta River League and perhaps one of the top groups in all of Division I. They definitely were going to have the most varsity experience of anyone else.
Then Kaylen Minnatee, the freshman infielder who almost single-handedly beat Sheldon in 2012 with key hits in both of Pleasant Grove’s wins over the Huskies, decided she wanted to play for the defending Sac Joaquin Section champions and transferred to Sheldon. Another potential 2013 starter, Brianna Cherry, transferred to Cosumnes Oaks.
Last season’ s starting catcher/third baseman Lindsey Willmon and her .448 batting average and eight home runs is playing this spring out of state. Taryn Renowden, who played two seasons ago, sat out much of 2012 with an injury, transferred to Elk Grove.
Still, the group that remains is pretty good. It all begins with returning starting pitcher Celina Matthias. Last season she was 10-8 with a 2.17 ERA.
Matthias has a vast repoitre of pitches, seven of them, to go with a new tuck wind-up to confound pitchers this spring.
“I’m going to stick with this wind-up because I can push off much better,” Matthias said.
She thinks that her velocity has picked up this season.
“But, I think I’ll get out most batters on my off-speed pitchers,” Matthias said.
Moving in from centerfield to catch is Amber Murray. She batted .286 last year and has already signed to play college softball at Eastern Kentucky University.
And, in the outfield is Morgan Carter, a senior who has inked a National Letter of Intent to play at Utah State.
A year ago the Eagles were 17-11, finished second in the DRL, but were quickly bounced out of the playoffs, a 5-3 defeat at the hands of West in the opening round.
Pleasant Grove’s softball team is off to a 3-2 start this season. Eagles’ head coach Chris Murray, now in his third season at Pleasant Grove, thinks his team will be right at or near the top of the league once again but the league has no clear-cut favorite.
“This is the year I just can’t make a prediction who might finish on top,” Murray said. “Things are changing. St. Francis lost their pitcher. I am thinking Ponderosa might have the most players back except for their catcher, so I am thinking that may be the team we’ll have to face off against.”
Murray will have to rely on several players with no varsity experience to fill in the holes.
“We’ve got brought up some good girls that deserve to (be at varsity),” he said. “Katie Antiqua, Sabrina Hicks, they’ve added quite a bit. Katie hit 1.000 in our first two games.”
Antiqua has taken over at first base and will also be the Eagles’ back-up catcher.
A year ago, Pleasant Grove, Sheldon, St. Francis and Ponderosa went down to the final day of the regular season with just three playoff slots up for grabs.
Ponderosa won the DRL championship by defeating St. Francis that day, while Minnatee’s walk-off grand slam in a 4-2 win over Sheldon put Pleasant Grove into second place. Because of a tie-breaker, Sheldon got into the post-season over St. Francis. The Lady Huskies then belted their way to their fourth Section title over the previous six seasons.
They beat Ponderosa, 8-1, in the championship game to win the 2012 title.
Murray says the sting of going one-and-out in the 2012 playoffs still smarts.
“Last year was a fluke. This year is our best shot (at a Section title),” he claims. “We can hit the ball. I think our defense is very solid.”
Pleasant Grove won the Section title in 2009, the school’s first and only championship in softball. That year Ally Carda was unbeatable on the mound for the Eagles. She’s now pitching at UCLA.