Montclair softball team hopes to keep momentum in playoffs

There may be no team that has done a better job of flying under the radar than the Montclair softball team.

The Cavaliers spent much of the season second in the Mt. Baldy League to defending champion Don Lugo. But the Cavaliers won their last seven games and defeated the Conquistadores twice in the last week of the regular season, both times by a run, to snatch away that league title.

They are hoping to keep that momentum heading into the playoffs.
The Cavaliers (16-10) start Division 4 play on Thursday against the winner of a wild card game between Arcadia and Highland.

Montclair coach Gilbert Diaz has a simple explanation for his team coming together so late in the season.

“We’re young and it just took us some time to gel and all get on the same page,” he said. “We’re playing well at the right time.”

Monique Cazares, one of just four seniors on the squad, has handled the majority of the load in the pitching circle the last two years. She had been a first baseman her first two years when the Cavaliers had a dominant pitcher in Brittany Violette who graduated in 2015 after leading the team to a league title.

Cazares relies more on the drop ball and the defense behind her than Violette who was a strikeout pitcher. She is also hitting .365 with 24 RBIs, five doubles, two triples and three home runs,

Anchoring that defense is senior shortstop Alyssa Diaz (.312).

Elsewhere the team is young. Among the key players are sophomore third baseman Nikki Marquez (.367, 18 RBIs), sophomore second baseman Rayanne LaBeau (.414), freshman first baseman Jayden Diaz (.310) and sophomore catcher Lindsey Caballero (.333, 16 RBIs).

Some might thing having that young a team can be a hindrance when the postseason rolls around because so few have the experience of playoff pressure.

Last season Montclair was league runner-up and lost its playoff opener to Harvard-Westlake 7-6.

But Diaz thinks his team’s performance down the stretch will be equally as helpful.

“We were in a lot of close games that we had to win,” he said. “Our backs were to the wall the last couple of weeks and the girls performed. That experience should help us.”

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Montclair wins first softball league title since 1989

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A league title has been a long time in coming for the Montclair High School softball team.

In fact, coach Gilbert Diaz says his girls were in the gymnasium looking at the different league championship banners in anticipation of securing that league title, the last of which came way back in 1989.

“One of the girls said to me, `Coach we weren’t even born,’ ” Diaz said with a chuckle.

It has indeed been that long.

But the Cavaliers (18-4) secured that long-awaited league title with a 9-4 win over Ontario today. It didn’t come easy. They trailed 3-0 in the sixth inning before regrouping.

Diaz, in his sixth year heading the squad, said the celebration wasn’t that elaborate. Yes the league title was nice. But he thinks his team is capable of more than winning a league title. He is looking for a playoff win or two before he’ll call the season a complete season.

The Cavaliers had battled for years with little success against Chino which has since departed for the Hacienda League, as well as Don Lugo which had been the perpetual runner-up to Chino.

Montclair, ranked No. 5 in Division 3, has been led by senior pitcher Brittany Violette, who has signed with Division I College of Charleston. The only other senior on the squad is catcher Taylor Plant.

Designated player Monique Cazares (.438) is the team’s leading hitter and she is just a sophomore. Third baseman Jocelyn Alvarado (.362) is just a junior.

So Diaz is hoping he has built a good foundation for the future.

The youth programs in the area are getting better which can only help. The other key is being able to keep the players at home who should be going to the school.

Diaz said when he started with the the program there were no players who competed year round in travel ball. Now he had five. But he knows many teams he’ll compete have a roster filled with those. But this is a good start!

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