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1998 SOFTBALL PREVIEW

Empire League

March 10, 1998

* Century: 13-8, 3-7 in 1997. Coach: Priscilla Sarmiento (first year). Prospects: Most of the infield returns, including senior first baseman Yvette Martinez, an all-league choice, junior third baseman/outfielder Natalie Castro and sophomore catcher Clarissa Parga and shortstop Ana Villalovos, who were second-team players. Senior Raylene Salcido is looking to start at third base and Audri Sandoval works into second base. Sophomore Kelly Medina and left-handed freshman Crystal Soto will comprise the inexperienced pitching corps.

* Cypress: 16-12, 6-4 in 1997. Coach: Heather Illsley (first year). Prospects: All nine starters return, including first-team all-league pitcher Lisa Monreal (8-4) and second-team center fielder Sasha Campbell; both are seniors. The Centurions' strength is in their defense, especially their corners, first baseman Dusty Creager and third baseman Sarina Brito (both juniors). Sophomore second baseman Jaime Matoba didn't make an error last season.

* El Dorado: 18-9, 8-2 in 1997. Coach: Chris Schaner (fifth year, 69-33). Prospects: Two first-team all-league players, shortstop Samantha Kimura (18 stolen bases) and junior center fielder Sarah Yarbrough, and two second-teamers, junior third baseman Jill Jessen and junior first baseman Melissa Hobson, are among the five returning starters. Kimura is the most dangerous player in the lineup. Sophomore left fielder Keisha Knight is also a returning starter. Juniors Tiffany Smith (utility) and Caitlin Haworth-Yasger (catcher) and sophomores Lauren Gallardo (right field) and Kerri Cavish (utility) also return.

* Katella: 10-17, 1-9 in 1997. Coach: Teri Collins (first year). Prospects: With only two seniors and two juniors--and only three players back from last year--the Knights face a rebuilding season. They'll do so with two returning starters, senior Kristi Gardner, who will play first or second base, and junior Angel Valdez, who will catch or play shortstop. Entrusted with the pitching is other returning player, sophomore Julie Gardosik.

* Kennedy: 23-6, 10-0 in 1997. Coach: Sue Hall (11th year, 264-70-2). Prospects: The Fighting Irish have won five consecutive league titles, and reached the Division III semifinals before losing to Glendora St. Lucy's, 3-2. Eight starters are back from that team, including Nicole Crouse (8-3, 0.09 ERA, Purdue). Like Crouse, three other senior starters were all-league performers: first baseman Kelly Bunker (.313, 17 RBIs, San Diego State), catcher Adrianna Wilson (.405, 20 RBIs)--both first-teamers--and center fielder Michelle Cross (.194). Right fielder Christen Fien (.344) was on the first team, and designated hitter Crystal Eubanks (.193) was on second team; both are juniors. Senior Lashelle Laird (second base), juniors Stephanie Wolter (left field) and Erica Duncan (third base), and sophomore Sara Mesa (shortstop/second base) also return as Kennedy looks to reach the section finals for the first time since 1988.

* Loara: 4-21, 2-8 in 1997. Coach: Scott Weber (second year, 4-21). Prospects: The Saxons could be among the county's biggest improvers over last season. They have 12 players and eight starters back. Three juniors and a sophomore are among the top five players, including pitcher Gina Vernazzaro and catcher Jackie Leeman (16 stolen bases) were first-team all-league selections as juniors. Junior third baseman Jessica Ruggiero and sophomore shortstop Megan Clark (.321) also return. Loara could be helped additionally by Nina Acevedo, a sophomore pitcher/first baseman from Katella. While pitching, defense and speed are strengths--the same components Weber used to win a section title at Fullerton in 1994--the Saxons lack power and can't afford an injury.

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