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1997 SOFTBALL PREVIEW : EMPIRE LEAGUE

March 11, 1997|MELANIE NEFF

Century: 8-13, 1-9 in 1996. Coach: Bill Snyder (second year, 8-13). Prospects: The Centurions return all nine starters, including 1995's first-team all-league first baseman, junior Yvette Martinez. Martinez sat out most of '96 because of a torn ACL and her return should boost a talented infield. First-team all-league senior Dawn Lopez returns to the infield, leading the team in batting last season at .347. Senior Debbie Arostigue (23 stolen bases) returns at shortstop and senior captain Shelena Pranauski returns at second base.

Cypress: 12-13-1, 6-4 in 1996. Coach: Diane Lewis (second year, 12-13-1). Prospects: Cypress hopes to improve on last season's third-place finish, as seven starters return. Pitcher Lisa Monreal has improved, Lewis said. Monreal, a first-team all-league pick, had a 1.11 earned-run average, and batted .296. Lewis also has high hopes for an improved infield, which returns a first-teamer, senior Stacy Silva (.337), at first base. Second-team all-leaguers include senior Laura Powers (.309) and Sasha Campbell.

El Dorado 17-8, 8-2 in 1996. Coach: Chris Schaner (fourth year, 51-24). Prospects: El Dorado is considered by most to battle with Kennedy for the title. Experience is key, returning seven starters--including six all-league players--from a team that finished second last seasonbut lost in the first round of the playoffs. Senior Carrie Jeffries is back in the pitcher's circle, where she finished second in the county in ERA at 0.12. Junior Samantha Kimura, the Empire League's MVP, returns at shortstop, and Jamie Nebeker leaves the basketball court to take her place in right field. Catcher Carmen LoNigro will try to earn her third consecutive first-team all-league selection.

Katella: 14-12, 5-5 in 1996. Coach: Carlos Ayala (second year, 14-12). Prospects: The Knights look to improve this year and possibly move among the top three after last season's fourth-place finish. They return five senior starters, including first-team all-league first baseman Vanessa Valenzuela, who will bat cleanup. Catcher Megan Hamrock, pitcher Sarah Vogel, outfielder Deon Earnest and third baseman Brittany Henderson also return.

Kennedy: 17-8, 9-1 in 1996. Coach: Sue Hall (10th year, 241-64-2). Prospects: Last year was considered a rebuilding year for Kennedy, picked by most to repeat as league champion. Starting four sophomores and three freshmen last season, this season the Fighting Irish return their 3-4-5 hitters as juniors, second-team Division I player Michelle Cross, catcher Adrianna Wilson and first baseman Kelly Bunker. Senior starters also returning are Fresno State-bound shortstop Alicia Dowland and Long Beach State-bound pitcher Traci Hensel. Dowland was a second-team Division I selection and Hensel an all-league pitcher. Hall also welcomes co-coach Cheryl Longeway, a former all-American who pitched at Cal State Fullerton and Southwestern Louisianawho could pay dividends.

Loara: 3-20, 1-9 in 1996. Coach: Scott Weber (first year). Prospects: Weber takes over a team that finished last, with one league victory last season. One bonus for Weber is eight starters return, including senior shortstop Natalie Wilson (.388) and junior center fielder Adriana Turcotte (.342, 18 stolen bases). Sophomore Gina Vernazzaro will be in the circle, finishing last season with a 2-2 record. Weber has a lot of juggling to do and it will take awhile to get the chemistry and a lineup that works.

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