Rancho will be tough to beat in softball

Rancho Cotate’s Taylor Morgan fields the ball during the game held at Rancho Cotate last May. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD).

ByMICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Early season results indicate longtime power Rancho Cotate will be tough to beat in North Bay League softball and Santa Rosa could have its strongest squad in years.

Defending champion Montgomery and usually strong Maria Carrillo have struggled to play consistently. Ukiah and Ursuline have enough pitching and good gloves to compete.

“Rancho is the favorite, but for the rest of us it’s going to be a race to the finish,” said Maria Carrillo coach Lonnie Harwell.

Piner and Elsie Allen have new coaches with ample experience to help those teams improve.
“For a lot of years the mentality was they didn’t have any chance,” said Piner coach Darren Kille. “Our goal this year is to just make every game competitive.”

Here are team capsules in order of last season’s standings, including current records.

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MONTGOMERY (3-5, 1-2)

Returning Starters: 6

The Vikings have yet to find their stride and a decisive loss to Rancho Cotate this week is another sign that Montgomery has work to do.

“We’re a really good hitting team. We play defense well. Our pitching has kind of been our Achilles heel,” said Montgomery coach Mike Malvino.

Leading the hit parade are shortstop Miley Sedlik and first baseman Amanda Cuccaro. Another returning starter, third baseman Amanda Dalby, is also piling up hits.

Four different Vikings have hit home runs and there is no easy out in the lineup.

Returning starting pitcher Caty Priebe has battled some injuries with newcomer Hannah

Boxerman getting some starts. Both need to throw strikes and the defense needs to back them up.

“We had a slow start. We’re getting progressively better,” Malvino said.

RANCHO COTATE (7-1, 2-0)

Returning Starters: 5

Boasting two strong pitchers and a balanced offense, the Cougars again are a threat to take a North Coast Section title after losing the championship game last season.

An improving defense would make Rancho Cotate even tougher to beat.

“I think we’re a little better,” said Rancho Cotate coach Dave Johnson. “Our pitching is going to be better. We’re deeper in the lineup. We’ve got good balance. We’ve got power and speed.”

Staff ace Katy Kibbe and second starter Shonna Christianson don’t need much support to win. Rancho Cotate already has three wins by a single run over tough non-league opponents.

Top hitters have been Christianson and second baseman-leadoff batter Morgan Taylor.
Orina Poueu is another returning starter who gets on base often. Robin Skelton has been a solid addition to the lineup.

Defense has been good enough to win those close games, yet needs to improve, Johnson said.
“We’re working on it. If you can pitch and play defense, you can play with everybody,” he said.

MARIA CARRILLO (2-5-1, 2-1)

Returning Starters: 4

Pitching depth will keep the Pumas in games. A lack of hitting has been the difference in losses.

“We’re looking good on defense and pitching,” Harwell said. “We can’t generate any offense. So that’s kind of an issue.

After a year away from the team, Sam Bartee is back at pitcher, joining last year’s ace, Taylor Clifton.

Three of the top four in the lineup are back: Mikaela Francis, shortstop and first base; Natalie Oropeza, center field; Megan August, right field. Another returning starter is Rochelle Schulze at third base and left field.

Despite their struggles, the Pumas are confident of reaching the section playoffs and being competitive against the best teams.

“We’re not in fifth gear yet. It’s still early,” Harwell said.

URSULINE (4-3, 2-1)

Returning Starters: 5

This last season of Ursuline softball — the school is closing — features a Bears team with two strong returning pitchers and a strong defense to back them up.

“Pitching and defense are going to win games. We’re getting our bats around,” said Ursuline co-coach Mary Cooper, who shares duty with husband Mark Cooper.

Twin aces in Haily McDonald and Hailey Eisenhauer split duties — when one pitches the other plays shortstop.

MacDonald also is the Bears top hitter from the leadoff spot with catcher Elissa Maloney a strong bat lower in the order. Outfielders Kayla Douglas and Elli Filice have been valuable additions to the starting squad.

UKIAH (2-2, 1-1)

Returning Starters: 3

While young, the Wildcats put out a starting nine with pitchers who throw strikes and fielders who don’t make many mistakes.

“We battle, we stay in games. Those are all good things with a young team,” said Ukiah coach Gary Venturi.

Top starter Riann Bumpus matches up with the league’s best. Also returning are Adrianna Macillas, in right field, and Katelyn Pipkin, at first base.

The biggest learning curve for the four sophomores in the starting lineup and other newcomers is the game’s pace.

“The game’s a little quicker at this level. We’re just working on the speed of the game,” Venturi said.
SANTA ROSA (8-0, 3-0)

Returning Starters: 2

Breaking out undefeated, Santa Rosa has been a big surprise. While the Panthers will move up in the standings this season, they aren’t thinking about a league title just yet.

“We’re kind of flying under the radar this year. We’ll see how we do,” said Santa Rosa coach Jeff Pratt.

While only two starters are back, they are anchors for the small squad. Pitcher and leadoff hitter Sarah Andersen is one of the league’s best, also playing outfield and second base.

Catcher Alison Wendler leads an offense that can string hits together.

Second pitcher Denia Vera gives Santa Rosa a pair of top hurlers. She also leads the team in hits.

With so many young players, Santa Rosa is working on defensive fundamentals, how to react and think in the faster paced varsity game.

PINER (2-5, 0-3)

Returning Starters: 4

After coaching the Analy junior varsity two years, Kille is shaping a young Piner team that lacks experience but is game to compete.

“We try to be aggressive at the plate and on the bases, and try to be as error free as possible,” he said. “That’s our biggest goal, to battle every game.”

Leading the Prospectors are returning starters pitcher and first baseman Tori Wilson and center fielder and top hitter Suzie Chavez.

Utility player Caitlin Hays and shortstop Allison Lopez are playing strong as sophomores.

ELSIE ALLEN (0-6, 0-3)

Returning Starters: 2

Fielding a team was a promising start for Elsie Allen after scrapping the program a year ago.

With a squad of 18, the Lobos have more players than some league teams.

“You start from scratch. They’re making amazing progress,” said Elsie Allen coach Brendan Johnson, who previously coached junior varsity at Maria Carrillo and Casa Grande.

Back from the Lobos team two seasons ago are Haley Sayre, at shortstop, and Jordan Isaacs, the first baseman. Ashlee Collins is the lone pitcher and has stayed strong.

Becoming better ballplayers is more important than winning.

“We try to keep it fun,” Johnson said.