To hear some of the players on the University High School softball team tell it, the secret to the team's surprising success has something to do with the easy compatibility among the players and the fun of playing for Bob Bernal, the dry-humored coach who is known around the school for the bizarre decor of his classroom.
But then again, the fact that University is averaging more than seven runs a game and the team batting average has been in the .300 to .325 range most of the season may have a bit to do with it, too.
The Trojans, who finished third in the Sea View League last season, have not lost a league game this season. Nor have they lost a game to any Southern Section opponent. They are 10-0 in league and 14-2 overall, the two losses coming in the Escondido tournament against teams from the San Diego Section.
In the latest Southern Section 3-A softball poll, they are ranked ninth, behind a number of other Orange County teams (No. 2 Sunny Hills, No. 5 Valencia, No. 6 Sonora, No. 7 Garden Grove and No. 8 Canyon) that play in leagues considered more competitive.
Although pitcher Jennifer Frei (12-1), one of only two seniors on the team (Erin Quon, who plays first base, is the other), has contributed greatly to the Trojans' success, offense has been the key.
"I think our hitting has gotten us where we are," said L'amour Ponce, who took private batting lessons before the season and has improved her average by about 50 points. "We're getting them all in bunches, and that spurs the team on."
Michele Bell, who plays second base and bats second in the order, is hitting .364. Ponce, the center fielder and No. 3 hitter, is batting .395. Left fielder Kim Feldsott, who bats eighth or ninth, is at .385.
"Everyone on our team is a good hitter," said Bell, a junior, who hit over .300 her freshman and sophomore seasons. "Everyone just seemed to come around this year all at once."
"It's not a situation where have cliques on the team," she said. "We all get along, not only at practice but at school."
Bernal, who teaches math at the school, is known for his penchant for tacking anything to the walls of his classroom. Among the artworks are a mouthpiece worn by a player after a softball hit her in the mouth, fly swatters, cans, upside-down posters and a piece of pizza from a banquet several years ago.
"The pizza is lacquered or something," Bell said.
"It's wax," said Ponce. "Or at least I hope so."
Playing for Bernal--and winning--is part of the fun of this season, the players said.
"He's always been this way," Bell said. "It's a constant joke. We laugh at him and he laughs at us."
University has already assured itself of a playoff spot, and seems certain to draw an easier first-round opponent this year than it did last year as a third-place league finisher.
"We don't want to think about that yet because we haven't finished league," Feldsott said. "I don't have any idea how we'll do. But if we keep hitting, that will be good."