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Softball Freshmen Don't Miss a Beat

Garden Grove Pacifica, especially because of four ninth-grade starters, is poised for a repeat title.

June 04, 2004|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Monica Harrison was still 14 when she was named starting shortstop for Garden Grove Pacifica this season. It surprised her.

After all, it was shortstop. The last Mariner to play that position was The Times' Southland player of the year.

"Since they lost Jodie Legaspi, a great player who's going to [NCAA champion] UCLA, it's like big shoes you have to fill," said Harrison, a freshman.

"They have Crystal Vieyra, who's a senior who can play shortstop but is playing second base. I thought [Coach Rob Weil] would have gone with her before me."

Instead, Harrison is one of four freshmen that Weil tabbed as starters for the Mariners (30-2), ranked No. 1 in the Southland by The Times and No. 3 in the nation by the National Fastpitch Coaches Assn.

Pacifica is also playing against La Mirada for its second consecutive Southern Section Division III title on Saturday at Barber Park in Irvine.

"When you have a group of young kids with veterans who have won a [Southern Section] championship ... I thought it would be tough to mix those freshmen into the system," Weil said.

"It's a pretty incredible group. With four freshmen starting, I didn't expect us to be 30-2 going into the finals."

It didn't take long for the younger players to buy into the Pacifica way. It happened at the Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Ariz., where the Mariners lost their only two games, including one to the No. 1 team in the nation, Missouri City (Texas) Elkins, 1-0.

"At the beginning of the year, we talked about pieces of the puzzle," Weil said. "Do your part of the puzzle and we'll be complete."

Those freshmen fill key pieces.

Noelle Micka is the catcher and bats lead-off. She also calls pitches for junior Brittany Weil (25-2). Harrison bats second or third. Stephanie Ochoa plays left field and bats fifth. Taylor Froelich plays center field and bats ninth.

Micka is batting .297 and has scored 22 runs. Harrison is batting .341 with 27 runs and 27 runs batted in. Ochoa is batting .411 with 19 RBIs, and Froelich is batting .303 and has scored 17 runs.

Micka, who won't turn 15 until Nov. 1, said she wasn't worried about fitting in. "I was worried about working hard and being up to the same level as everybody else," she said.

Hard work -- and talent -- was the great equalizer.

"They've adapted really well," said Vieyra, one of four senior starters. "We know they're here for a reason. They wouldn't be on the team if they couldn't play at the level they needed to play."

A fifth freshman, outfielder Alissa Giel, would have started if not for an elbow injury. She has scored 16 runs, primarily as a pinch-runner.

Next season, three incoming freshmen are likely to battle for starting positions.

On Tuesday in a Division III semifinal, Micka and Harrison each had singles in the first inning and scored in a 3-0 victory over La Habra Sonora.

Pacifica has 13 victories over teams that have been ranked in The Times' top 25. Those victories will mean little, however, if the Mariners don't win Saturday.

"My main goal is to win [a section title] again," said Micka, who is then reminded that, as a freshman, she has yet to win a first one.

"I do," she responded, when asked if she already feels as if she is a part of the Pacifica softball heritage. "I really do."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Southern Section Softball Championships

TODAY AT BARBER PARK, IRVINE

* Division V -- Ontario Christian (24-5) vs. Sun Valley Village Christian (21-10), 5 p.m.

Ontario Christian, in the finals for the first time since 1983 and trying to win a title for the first time since 1978, has yet to give up a run in the playoffs behind pitcher Jessica Hibma. Fourth-seeded Village Christian, led by Stanford-bound pitcher Lauren Nydam, is trying to win its second title in a row.

* Division I -- Riverside Poly (25-5) vs. Los Alamitos (22-8-2), 7:30 p.m.

Top-seeded Riverside Poly had never advanced past the quarterfinals, but did so this season behind Mindy Cowles, whose gutsy semifinal performance helped beat fourth-seeded Santa Ana Mater Dei. With pitcher Stacey Nelson, Los Alamitos has a second-round victory over Moreno Valley Canyon Springs, which tied Riverside Poly for the Ivy League title.

SATURDAY AT BARBER PARK, IRVINE

* Division II -- Corona Santiago (27-3) vs. Corona (23-8), 7:30 p.m.

Corona, the third-place team from the Mountain View League, defeated league champion Corona Santiago in the final week of the regular season on Brittney Bargar's two-hitter. Top-seeded Santiago needed two comebacks and 10 innings to beat Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula in the quarterfinals, 7-6, but Taryne Mowatt faced only 21 batters in a 9-0 semifinal victory over Orange El Modena.

* Division III -- La Mirada (28-4) vs. Garden Grove Pacifica (30-2), 1 p.m.

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