Live Oak High softball coach Sarah Porras was at a softball clinic last year when people told her she would be having a good freshmen class coming in this season. Sobrato High coach Sam Michaels received equally great news when four seniors—who last played as freshmen—decided to come out for the team this season. Both squads have been boosted by the play of new and familiar faces, and that was evident in the Bulldogs’ 6-4 win over the Acorns in a non-league contest on March 5.
Sobrato entered the week off to its best start in recent memory with a 5-1 record. Live Oak fell to 1-2 after facing Central Coast Section powerhouse Valley Christian last Saturday. Both squads have reason to be optimistic, starting with the talent on the respective rosters. The Bulldogs have an experienced 1-2 combo in the circle in seniors Lexi Parish and Julie Martin. Parish is committed to play at Sacramento State.
“We have five pitchers, but Lexi and Julie are the two mainstays who will pretty much carry us this year,” Michaels said. “They have better velocity and better control (compared to last year), so we’re excited about that.”
The Acorns are equally excited about the potential of their two main pitchers in freshmen Jasmine Mixco and Bella Altamirano, who started against Sobrato and pitched five innings against a pretty potent lineup. For Sobrato, Parish hits leadoff, Jessica Mendes the two spot, Lindsey Martin bats in the three hole and Madison Fisher the cleanup spot. A senior catcher, Fisher makes an impact both at the plate and behind the dish.
“Maddie is our hammer and at the No. 4 spot for a reason,” Michaels said. “I feel very confident in our 1-2-3 hitters being able to get on base and have those opportunities because Maddie will protect them, especially our No. 3, Lindsey Martin. Lindsey is an absolute beast. Some schools are looking at her now, and she’s really matured the last two years and you can tell. She put in a lot of time in the off-season, and she’s probably headed to the gym right now. We have a lot of our players go to a local gym and work out, and the fitness trainer has them on a special program. You can see it’s starting to pay dividends. They’re a lot more physical.”
Lindsey Martin and Fisher proved potent against Live Oak, with Martin hitting two singles and Fisher smacking two doubles. Parish started and went 4 1/3 solid innings, and Julie Martin pitched the final 1 2/3 innings to seal the outcome. The two pitchers make for quite a duo, as they can hit their spots and possess tremendous movement on their pitches. Sobrato received an influx of experienced talent with the return of seniors Sam Herlihy, Emily Valella, Mendes and Maya Heffernan, who are back for the first time since playing in their freshmen year.
“They came out of the woodwork, and we’re excited to have them on the team,” Michaels said.
Sobrato also returns four sophomores who started last year as freshmen, including Jaden Roush, Molly Orman, Lily Finegan and Maggie Frisby. The Bulldogs finished 7-7 in the Blossom Valley League’s Mount Hamilton Division last year, but they’re expecting to improve on that by at least a couple of games this season. They’ve got plenty of speed, as their four stolen bases against Live Oak attests.
“We’re very aggressive and a running team,” Michaels said. “We like to steal bases, get runners moving and put on hit and runs.”
Michaels said the junior varsity team had five freshmen who are talented enough to be on the varsity squad this season—there just simply isn’t enough room on the roster, Michaels said—which speaks to the overall state of the program.
“I can’t talk enough about the JV program and the ones who will come up in the future,” he said. “I think this program is stacked.”
Parish does a great job of getting on base, creating scoring opportunities and bringing runners home. In the bottom of the first inning, she reached second base on a sharply hit ball that skipped past the first baseman and down the line. Parish then stole third and two batters later scored on a wild pitch. In the next inning, Parish hit an RBI single to make it 2-2, and the Bulldogs never trailed again.
Parish also had two of the team’s five hits in a 8-2 loss to section heavyweight Mitty last Saturday.
Sobrato has looked strong in the early going of the season, earning a big win over a Carlmont team that is a perennial CCS power. Like Michaels, Porras loves the talent and makeup of her team, as freshman Dre DeJesus hit a two-run homer against Sobrato in the top of the first inning.
“She’s a freshman hitting in the three spot playing shortstop, so that should tell you she’s pretty damn good,” Porras said. “She’s definitely one of our key players, and is already taking a big leadership role, which is awesome.”
DeJesus reached safely in all four of her plate appearances, as she added a walk, single and reached on an error. The Acorns had a tough day in the field, committing three errors that ultimately proved to be the difference in the loss. However, they did show the apex of their potential as well, with Mixco making a diving catch in shallow left field in the bottom of the second inning. DeJesus also made a nice backhand snag on a grounder in the fifth before making a throw to first baseman Gianna Vallez, who scooped the ball out of the dirt to record the putout. Porras chalked up the errors to it being just the team’s second game of the season against its crosstown rival.
“A lot of the girls are freshmen, and most of them haven’t played in more than one high school game before, let alone playing their rival,” Porras said. “And they have all their friends and all their family here to watch, and I think that can be a lot of pressure. So I think all of that kind of got the best of us today, but they’re definitely going to improve. They’ll clean that up, and we’ll be more successful, but it kind of bit us in the butt today.”
Of the 14 players on the Live Oak roster, eight are freshmen. The Acorns have just one senior, meaning they should be even better next season. Live Oak is the defending BVAL Santa Teresa Division co-champion, and it would love nothing more than to win the title outright this season. The Acorns return junior center fielder Emma Courtney, who possesses a nice all-around game and will once again play a key role in the team’s success.
“We’re trying to jell as a team and get everyone comfortable playing together,” Porras said. “We’re trying to bring it together and have them represent our school and community well.”
Live Oak’s talented freshmen class along with key returners have ramped up excitement for the program. Bela Panuco, who hits cleanup, has a powerful swing, while sophomore catcher/third baseman Deja Jimenez is one of the team’s top returners. They say timing is everything, and that certainly rings true for the Acorns, who graduated several senior starters off the 2019 squad.
“I heard through the grape vine that we would have a really good freshmen class coming in,” Porras said. “I was like, ‘We better, because we’re graduating eight seniors, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ They said the freshmen would be good, but it’s definitely better than what we could have hoped for. This is amazing, they’re talented and we’re excited.”