The La Cañada High School varsity softball team didn’t have much of a preseason to work with its young athletes, but head coach Chuck Gunter is confident in his squad, which includes six seniors, two juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen.
“We’re ready to play,” Gunter said. “It’s just I got to keep getting the idea into their heads that everyone is gunning for them. Everyone is going to try to take games away from us and take the [Rio Hondo League] title. It’s going to be a competitive year, but we’re ready.”
The Spartans (2-1 overall record) aren’t the only ones with key returning starters. San Marino, Monrovia and Temple City each boast All-League standouts and have the potential to challenge La Cañada for the league crown.
Luckily for Gunter, he has five of eight All-League LCHS athletes returning this season to set the tone for the underclassmen. He’s counting on the leadership of last year’s MVP Emily Tinkham, catcher Taryn Harris, utility player Alexis Abboud and outfielder Maddy Reilly. The returner that gives La Cañada an edge over other teams in the league and alleviates Gunter’s duties during a game is ace Holly Stoner, who was the league’s Most Valuable Pitcher last year.
“It’s relaxing to have someone like Holly back,” Gunter said. “It helps me manage the game a little better when I don’t have to focus on every pitch. Holly is great, and Taryn [Harris] is doing a great job catching her. It really is a relief having them while I can focus on which players to get in.”
The coaching staff plans on using every girl on the roster. Gunter said he picked each young athlete to be on the team for a reason.
“We brought up sophomores and freshmen because we know what they’re capable of,” Gunter said. “They are a little nervous playing at this level, but the more games they get in, the better they will be. I know they’re potential. I’ve seen them play since they were 10 years old. Some of those girls are the fastest girls in the program. They just need to learn the difference between JV and varsity. They’re getting there.”
The team has shown improvement since falling to Covina Charter Oak, 11-1, in its season opener. The Spartans rebounded with a 6-3 victory over Montclair and a 6-2 win over West Covina in a tournament. They have one more nonleague contest before opening Rio Hondo League play at Monrovia this Friday at 3:30 p.m.
“They’re improving every game,” Gunter said. “We have a few bats that we’re missing, but that’s what we’re working on. We have Holly back and we’re solid defensively, especially with Maddy in centerfield. She’s nails out there. Our seniors are carrying the team, but we still have work to do. Right now we are focused on hitting because the rest of our play is solid.”
The Spartans will take on the Wildcats this Friday and then face rival South Pasadena at home on Tuesday, March 20, at 3:30 p.m.