Softball teams opposing Crescenta Valley High this season normally can count on three things when they play the Falcons.
One, they will face pitcher Heather Lindstrom. Two, they'll send batters to the plate at least 21 times. And three, nearly two-thirds of those batters will strike out.
For opponents, it's not the most appealing scenario, but for Crescenta Valley Coach Dan Berry, it's a blessing. Lindstrom is on his side.
Lindstrom, Berry said, is a "once in a lifetime pitcher" and "the best player I have ever coached."
Crescenta Valley has only played softball for six years, making Berry's comments somewhat suspect. But judging by its records, Crescenta Valley's and Lindstrom's, Berry's comments are as on track as one of his two-time All-Southern Section's pitcher's fastballs.
Crescenta Valley has won the Pacific League title every year since it began competition in 1983. The Falcons finished 13-7 that season, its worst record to date.
And then came Lindstrom.
She impressed coaches and opponents alike her freshman season, finishing 19-0 and leading the junior varsity to the league championship. She had an amazing assortment of pitches for such a young player. She had a strong fastball, curve, changeup, rise and drop. But many believed the full impact of her talent would not be realized until her senior season.
They were wrong.
She was 21-2 her sophomore season, earning the most valuable player award at the Hart tournament, first-team All-Pacific League and first-team All-Southern Section. Not to mention the four playoff wins she pitched, leading the Falcons to the 3-A title.
Last season, she pitched 139 innings, striking out 180 batters while only walking six. Lindstrom (20-4) again was named to the all-league and All-Southern Section teams and was MVP of the Hart tournament, but Crescenta Valley lost in the playoffs' second round.
Off to a 12-1 start, in this, her final high school season, Lindstrom has the ability and Crescenta Valley has the backup to regain its 1986 championship form. Thus far, she is averaging 14 strikeouts a game.
Crescenta Valley (12-1) has impressive preseason victories over 4-A opponents Ocean View, Hart, Royal, Alhambra and Edgewood. Crescenta Valley opens league play Tuesday against Pasadena at Montrose Community Park.
Because much of the season's outcome hinges on Lindstrom's performance, Berry does not allow her to bat. And injury at the plate would not only sideline Lindstrom, but much of the Falcons' chances for a second Southern Section title. She improved quickly in the beginning, but the changes now are subtle.
"It gets harder every year," Lindstrom said of her attempt to improve. "People expect so much out of you."
This season, many people are expecting the fourth-ranked Falcons to produce a title. The chances are favorable.
Crescenta Valley's other pitcher is Berry's daughter, Jennifer. The junior is 6-0 in her high school career, those wins coming mostly in the second half of tournament doubleheaders. She is a capable pitcher, however, and would most likely be an all-league player if she was not playing in the shadow of Lindstrom.
Crescenta Valley also has an experienced outfield. Leilani Artis last season moved from third base to left field where she batted .500 and was named first-team All-Southern Section. Heather McMullin, an all-leaguer, is batting about .300 and plays center field. Berry recently has moved Jeanne Mixon, an all-league first baseman, into right field to shore up the Falcon batting order. Sophomore Jamie White replaced Mixon at first and junior Christine Clash plays third.
Crescenta Valley's only starting freshman is shortstop Carrie Shirley. Gena Moe, who leads the team in home runs (4) and runs batted in (24) is at second base. The Falcons have had some trouble behind the plate the past few years. Susan Bonas, a starter two seasons ago, has returned after suffering a broken jaw last year.
But the responsibility for victory normally falls on the 5-7 shoulders of Lindstrom.
"I have all the confidence in the world in Heather," Berry said. "She never loses her composure. She doesn't go through a lot of peaks and valleys."