Six key sophomore starters return from last year's SoCal Regional Playoff qualifying squad as the Pasadena City College softball team expect the veteran group to lead the Lancers into another strong campaign in 2020. The Lancers are directed by seventh-year head coach Monica Tantlinger, whose 2018 and 2019 teams combined for 52 victories.
PCC returns two All-South Coast Conference First Team selections in infielder Danielle Ruiz and third baseman turned outfielder Samantha Diaz. Ruiz, a second baseman now moving over to shortstop, was PCC's batting average leader last season with a .375 mark to go with a .500 on-base percentage and 19 RBI. She only made one error in 110 chances for a .991 fielding percentage as a freshman. Diaz batted .358, leading the Lancers in hits (45), runs scored (37), stolen bases (28) and doubles (13). Diaz will play right field and is the slated lead-off hitter.
Other lettermen include a pair of All-SCC Second Team choices in pitching ace Austyn Helmuth (11-8 record, 2.60 ERA) and catcher Jennie Chacon, a .329 hitter with 15 RBI as well as a strong defender behind the plate. The other sophomores are returning starters in now centerfielder Olivia Nanez (.309, 20 RBI) and Valley Febles, who is moving permanantly to the hot corner at third base after playing both first base and at third during her freshman season (.274, 10 RBI, 12 stolen bases). Febles batted .500 in the SoCal Playoffs (3-for-6) against Santiago Canyon College. Helmuth, who only had four at bats last year, will get more opportunities to hit this season.
"Our sophomores were the catalysts of our team as freshmen, and they have a tough task to repeat that level of performance," Tantlinger said. "But they have the mentality as competitors and absolutely will lead our team into battle."
Tantlinger is carrying her smallest roster in her tenure at PCC with 14 players, including a freshmen crop of just eight newcomers.
"We have less depth, but this also makes for more efficient and focused reps. We have speed to showcase on the basepaths, but we can't steal first, so we need to find ways to get on base."
The sophomores had just two home runs between them, but Tantlinger may have some power hitters in new cleanup hitter and first baseman Katelyn Wooton, a 5-foot-10 talent nicknamed "Bear" from South Pasadena High, and incoming leftfielder Miranda Padilla, another big stick at 5-10 from Eagle Rock High. Padilla is an All-Northern League First Team selection who batted .383 as a senior. Wooten hit .309 as a catcher her senior season. Rounding out potential starters are frosh second baseman Ahylie Rosales, who batted .333 as a senior at Alhambra High, and pitcher/DP Desiree Huerta, who batted .579 with 16 extra-base hits in her senior year at La Puente High.
The pitching staff starts with the change-of-speeds hurler Helmuth but PCC figures to complement the starting circle spot in Elena Bahnimtewa, from Glen Wilson High in Hacienda Heights. Huerta and Ruiz will also see innings in a relief role.
Tantlinger has added two former players from the '19 squad to the assistant coaching staff in All-SoCal shortstop Kaylee Medrano and All-SCC honorable mention Alise Allen. She will continue to be aided by long-time pitching coach Stephanie Marshall, first base coach Nolan Peralta and John Zabala.
ROUGH SEASON OPENER
On Friday, the Lancers went up against one of the state's best pitchers in Briana Garrett, but it was Antelope Valley College's hitting that ruined opening day at Robinson Park for PCC in a 12-2, 6-inning loss to the Marauders.
Garrett, who last year pitched back-to-back perfect games and had three no-hitters overall, held PCC hitless until a bloop single over the head of the shortstop by Diaz to lead off the fourth inning. Nanez lined a 2-RBI double to left in the sixth to keep PCC from being blanked.
AVC scored a run off Helmuth in the second and used a Lancers error to key a 5-run rally in the third. The Marauders finished with 18 hits, led by catcher Nayely Delgado's 3-for-5 with three RBI. Both first baseman Kaitlyn Cronin and designated player Pricilla Gomez roped a pair of doubles.
For PCC, Padilla lined a deep drive to center in the fifth for one of the hardest hit balls of the day for the Lancers.
PCC will play Southwestern College Saturday, Jan. 25 in an 11 a.m. start at Robinson Park.