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Riding High

El Dorado Overcomes Poor Start to Become One of the Top Softball Teams in the County

April 27, 1999|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

That bus ride to Placentia after a loss at La Mirada early last month wasn't a happy trip for the El Dorado softball team.

With 10 experienced players, including eight starters, the Golden Hawks thought they had one of the best chances in recent school history to be among the top teams in the Southern Section.

"It was very frustrating," pitcher Jill Jessen said. "We thought we would have a really successful team and here we were, having lost our first two games."

But the players rallied around first-year Coach Jill Matyuch and produced a 15-game winning streak prior to last Thursday's 3-1 Empire League loss at Kennedy. The Golden Hawks (15-3, 3-1) are ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section Division II poll despite the loss and they've been ranked as high as seventh in the county. They complete the first half of their Empire League season today by hosting Katella at 3:15.

Perhaps the most concerned person after that lackluster start was Matyuch, a former Cal State Fullerton basketball and softball player.

She took the El Dorado job after a year as a Titan basketball assistant and another as a coach in a women's professional softball league in the Southeast. She also coached softball at Covina Charter Oak for five years and won a section

title.

Matyuch had high hopes for the Golden Hawks, but she got an early wake-up call in the season opener, a 3-1 loss to Diamond Bar. Then came the 5-4 debacle at unranked La Mirada in which errors led to El Dorado's undoing. The Golden Hawks were going backward.

"When you start in a new program and you lose your first two games, it's an eye-opener," Matyuch said. "This team was used to winning, maybe not league championships, but every year it certainly had respectable winning percentages."

The Golden Hawks had finished second in the Empire League each of the last three seasons. But they were also used to making quick postseason exits. Last year, they went 15-9 but were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. This season, the players want more.

"My goal for this season was to win the league title," catcher Caitlin Haworth-Yasger said, "and I want to take it farther. I want to go a lot farther than we usually go in CIF."

Jessen, off-speed pitcher with a good knuckleball who signed in November with Southern California College, shut out Laguna Hills, 2-0, for the Golden Hawks' first victory. She pitched five of the next nine victories, but took the loss at Kennedy. She has a record of 8-2 with an 0.87 earned-run average. Also a third baseman, she is the clean-up hitter and batting .345.

Haworth-Yasger, who signed last November to play at Fresno State, is hitting .270 and has thrown out five of nine runners attempting to steal.

The team's other pitcher, Melissa Hobson, is 7-1 with a 1.17 ERA. She has struck out 63. She also plays first base and has a team-high 11 runs batted in, and is hitting .295.

Hobson, a control pitcher with seven pitches in her repertoire, said the team felt some pressure as the winning streak grew. The Golden Hawks, for instance, took an 11-0 lead in the second inning of last week's game at Cypress, but made three errors and barely held on to win, 11-10. Still, she said, her goal is to win at least 20 games.

"We just have to try and have some fun by scoring some runs and making good plays," Hobson said.

Part of the slow start might be attributed to the changing of the guard that brought Matyuch to El Dorado. When she replaced Chris Schaner, she installed a few different wrinkles, like switches in bunting styles and pregame warm-ups. Players said it took a little more time than they thought it would to adjust.

"I was excited about her, but I was skeptical at first," Hobson said. "We had to come in and deal with a change. We had to trust in her, and it seems now to have worked out well."

Hobson, who shares team captain duties with Jessen and Haworth-Yasger, said Matyuch proved to the team that she knew her stuff in the opener against Diamond Bar, even though the team lost. In the early innings, the Golden Hawks were striking out in droves.

"The pitcher was so good," Hobson said. "[Matyuch] told us to choke up and punch the ball into the ground, just make contact. She said that the infielders hadn't touched a ball in a long time and that if we put it into play, they might make an error, and that's what happened.

"A couple of players didn't buy into it, but the other seven listened," Hobson said. "That showed me, at least, that she knew what she was talking about."

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