Bella Romani, Sam Parish, Julie Martin and Lexi Parish return to lead Sobrato. Photo by Robert Eliason.
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When Bella Romani sees freshmen on the roster, she literally knows what it’s like to be in their shoes. A four-year varsity player, Romani earned a roster spot in her freshman year at Sobrato High. 

“I try my hardest to make them feel welcome as much as possible because at one time I was where they are at now,” said Romani, a Dominican University signee. “I know what it’s like to start low and then work your way up, so it’s always nice to help them when possible.” 

Through last week, there were four freshmen—Maggie Frisby, Lily Finegan, Jaden Roush and Molly Orman—on the roster, which was still taking shape. First-year Sobrato coach Sam Michaels said he wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of them end up earning starting positions at some point this season. That makes the role of Romani, fellow seniors Sam Parish and Audra Clark and the junior class of Lexi Parish, Adriana Medina, Julie Martin and Madison Fisher all the more important because the upperclassmen set the tone and culture for a high school sports team.

A great team dynamic equates to making the freshmen feeling welcome, while a toxic atmosphere has the opposite effect. Romani and Parish, who are the only two seniors on the team, by all accounts are professional and willing to help the Bulldogs’ latest crop of incoming talented players. 

“I really want to be a leader for the team, especially since I’m a senior and know I can do well,” said Romani, the starting shortstop. “It feels really good to get back on the field again because a week without softball can drive me crazy. I love the sport and this team is bonding well, especially with the new girls.”

Like any team aiming for success, things need to start in the circle. The Bulldogs have two solid pitchers in Lexi Parish and Julie Martin. Both pitchers can locate the ball well, and Parish has above-average velocity, while Martin is able to change speeds nicely.

“I definitely see a big difference from last year,” said Michaels, who was an assistant coach last season. “You can see they’ve made a big jump from last year.”

Martin’s sister, Lindsey, can play the outfield or infield and is expected to make a strong impact. Lexi’s older sister, Sam, is terrific defensively and possesses a potent bat. The Santa Clara University-signee can be counted upon to perform whether at the plate or behind the plate. Sophomore Hailey Cognetti plays third base and the outfield and is coming off a solid freshman season. Madison Fisher, a junior utility, and Clark, a senior first baseman and designated hitter, provide the team with balance throughout the lineup and quality play defensively. 

The four freshmen of Frisby, Finegan, Roush and Orman also have the potential to do some terrific things. The freshmen couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Bulldogs graduated six seniors off last year’s group, four of whom were starters. For a high school program to be consistently strong, it needs a talented freshmen class to come in every two to three years at the minimum. 

“We’ve identified four freshmen who we think in the next two to three years will be leading this team and doing good things for this program,” Michaels said. “Jaden makes really good contact, has excellent speed and very good range in the outfield. She’s got a good arm and a very good attitude. Molly can pitch but more likely will be in the outfield and possibly filling in at second base. She does everything really well: throws, hits and has good speed.” 

Junior Adriana Medina plays the infield and provides much-needed depth in the infield. Michaels was originally going to serve as the assistant coach this season until the school’s last hire fell through in January. A firefighter for the Santa Clara Fire Department, Michaels saw the need to take over but needed to find a way to make sure he could be at most or all of the team’s games and practices. Once Michaels found a way to make things work logistically—more on that in a second—he was hired in late January. 

“It’s really tough to stay in the A division, but we plan to keep this momentum going,” Michaels said. “Our players are up for the challenge and we hired some great coaches.”

Michaels knew for this to work, he had to assemble an experienced coaching staff filled with softball lifers. So he called Gene Ciraulo, who lives part of the year in Idaho and the other part of the time in the Bay Area. Ciraulo has over 30 years of softball coaching experience, while David Bauer also comes with strong credentials, having coached travel ball for several years. 

Sobrato is coming off a season in which it went 15-12 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs, losing a thrilling, nine-inning contest to Hillsdale. Having gotten a taste of the postseason, the Bulldogs hope they can go farther this season.

“That CCS game was probably the best softball game I’ve been involved in,” Michaels said. 

The Bulldogs are off to a nice start, whipping Overfelt 16-5 to open the season and following that up with a 6-3 victory over a solid Christopher squad. Romani, who had a double, triple and drove in two runs against Christopher, worked on improving her hitting and raising her batting average in the off-season. She also was cognizant to strengthen her mental game.

“I feel being mentally strong helps build confidence not just for yourself but your teammates as well,” Romani said. “It lets me know I can do this and that I’ve been putting in the work and have a good team, and that we can do some good things.”

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