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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | CLUB SCENE

Valley Squad Breezes to Semifinals

August 12, 2000|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Co-Coaches Garry Fetman and Tom Sotelo of Valley Breeze looked like geniuses last week at the Amateur Softball Assn. 18-and-under Gold national tournament in St. Louis.

But only for a moment.

In a first-round game against the Missouri Illusion Gold, Valley Breeze had the tying run at second base with two out in the sixth inning. Fetman and Sotelo called for pinch hitter Annette Ramirez, who tripled to tie the score, 1-1.

With top slugger Lauren Watson about to dig into the batter's box, Valley Breeze appeared on the brink of scoring the go-ahead run.

But . . . time out.

Ramirez, a 1999 Alemany graduate who plays at Pierce College, was never announced to the umpire. The Illusion Gold called a timeout just before Ramirez came to bat and Fetman and Sotelo became distracted.

"We each assumed that the other was going to enter [Ramirez]," Fetman said.

So Ramirez was ruled the third out and Valley Breeze ended up losing, 1-0, and being sent into the losers' bracket.

"I know [Fetman and Sotelo] felt really bad for us," said Watson, a senior catcher for Valencia High. "They were really shaken up. Their voices were trembling . . . they thought they might have lost nationals for us."

Valley Breeze, with 14 of its 17 players from region high schools, won three pool-play games in its first Gold national tournament before the coaches' mistake.

"If I had a gun, I might have used it," Fetman said.

While the coaches licked their wounds, Valley Breeze kept licking the competition, winning an unprecedented eight consecutive games to get to the semifinals. Five victories came in one day.

"We lost because of a coaching error [against the Illusion Gold] and the girls picked us up all week," Fetman said.

Recent high school graduates Anna Russell of Harvard-Westlake and Amy Rosson of Calabasas split pitching duties and outperformed some of the finest college recruits in the nation.

"My only regret is that Anna and Amy didn't get the attention they deserved," Fetman said.

Among Valley Breeze's biggest conquests was an eight-inning victory over highly regarded Gordon's Panthers of Orange County. Jen Dilly of Newbury Park drove in a run in the bottom of the eighth and eliminated Gordon's Panthers, 1-0.

Valley Breeze's extraordinary run--playing more national tournament games than any team in Gold history--ended against the Anaheim Batbusters, 3-0.

But the team's 11-2 record and fourth-place finish among 68 elite squads was better than expected.

"Nobody gave us a chance this year," Fetman said. "And that's a testament to those girls' heart."

*

As always, the 18-and-under Gold tournament was well attended by college coaches.

Garnering a lot of attention was Watson, a hard-hitting, left-handed batter who caught every inning for Valley Breeze.

After catching five games in smothering St. Louis humidity Saturday, Watson admitted she was a bit delirious. But she wouldn't relinquish her catcher's gear.

"I told my coach, 'I didn't come this far to give my catching duties away for the final championship games,' " Watson said.

Tournament officials were impressed. They selected Watson and outfielder Kim Koral, a recent Harvard-Westlake graduate, to the 15-player ASA All-American team.

"Lauren did very well," Fetman said. "She's the real deal."

Watson has arranged three official recruiting trips but declined to say where.

"I don't want to jinx anything," she said.

*

First baseman Oli Keohohou of Gordon's Panthers, a Newbury Park graduate headed to Brigham Young, and third baseman Veronica Ramos of Valley Breeze, a 1999 Sylmar graduate who plays at San Jose State, were selected second-team All-Americans.

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