By Stephen Ramirez, @SteveRRamirez on Twitter
There were no area CIF-Southern Section softball champions last year. But that may change this season.
Five local teams began the year ranked in their respective divisions and look capable of bring home championship hardware.
The top of the heap is traditional power Bishop Amat, which has been the area’s elite program in recent years, and that’s not expected to change in 2014.
The Lancers, who begin the season ranked No. 1 in the area, suffered big time losses, including coach Jesse Mendez to West Covina, but there’s plenty of optimism in La Puente with the return of arguably three of the better players in the area — third baseman Amanda Sanchez, shortstop Mandy Larios and outfielder Alyssa Barrera.
There’s also the factor of new coach Kristen Dedmon, whose experience includes three years as head coach at Capistrano Valley and being a graduate assistant at NCAA power UCLA in 2008.
“As a coach, it is exciting to join a program that has talent and a tradition of excellence,” Dedmon said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the team puts all of the things we’ve worked on into practice during the games.”
The talent is definitely still there, especially with Sanchez, who was one of the top hitters in the area last season, hitting .569 with 30 RBIs. She also She also scored 28 runs. Larios hit .264 with 13 RBIs, with Barrera hitting .338 with 11 RBIs. She also scored 20 runs.
The challenge will be in the circle, where Sabrina Anguiano is gone. The replacements will lie with senior Anissa Sanchez and sophomore Samaria Diaz. The two combined for 16 innings last season.
“My team knows that I expect a lot from them,” Dedmon said. “Having so many returners on the team is an asset because they have experience that they can pass on to their teammates. They know what it is like to play together and to make the postseason.
“The girls are really hungry to make CIF again this year and to advance further than they did last year. That being said, we’ll have to take this season one game at a time in order to reach our goals. As with any team, getting them to work together and persevere through the ups and downs of a season is one of the biggest goals and I’m pleased to say that this is a group of girls that loves to compete and thoroughly enjoy being teammates.”
The rest of the top 10 is after the jump
2. CHARTER OAK
The Chargers, traditionally one of the better hitting teams in the area, added consistent pitching to their repertoire and the result was one of their better seasons in recent years. Some key pieces are gone, but there is still enough in the cupboard for high optimism.
The key for Charter Oak, which began the season ranked No. 6 in Division 2, is infielders Christine Pinela, who hit .351 with 19 RBIs, and Brooke Clemetson, who hit .323 and had 15 RBIs. Clemetson is also the leader in the circle after going 13-5 with a 2.21 ERA last season.
Charter Oak is expected to be Chino Hills’ chief challenger in the Sierra League.
3. SOUTH HILLS
The Huskies are another challenger to Chino Hills in what should be a highly-competitive Sierra League race.
South Hills features junior pitcher Caitlyn Van Hemelryck, who was 15-7 with a 2.54 ERA. She’s also one of the Huskies’ top hitters, batting .270 with 24 RBIs last season. South Hills also looks to sophomore outfielder Christie Aguilar, who hit .270 with 21 RBIs.
Art Montano succeeds Ken Carlson as coach for the Bearcats, who are ranked No. 10 in Division 2 and again the favorite in the Hacienda League.
Bonita’s returners include senior infielder Vienna Benavides, who hit .562 with 12 RBIs. She also scored 15 runs.
5. SAN DIMAS
The Saints, ranked No. 8 in Division 5, are the co-favorites with Northview to win the Valle Vista League.
San Dimas’ hopes lie with senior catcher Janell Wheaton, who hit .609 with 39 RBIs and senior shortstop Briana Quintana, who hit .310 with 18 RBIs. The pitchers include junior Chelsea Carpenter, who had a 2.53 ERA last season.
The Vikings, after its first-ever trip to the CIF-SS semifinals last season, are back for more.
Northview, ranked No. 6 in Division 5, features senior outfielder Jocelyn Marquez and senior pitcher/infielder Ana Mejia. Marquez hit .554 with 24 RBIs last season. She also scored 47 runs. Mejia, who hit .455, was 19-6 with a 3.24 ERA in the circle.
7. SIERRA VISTA
The Dons, ranked No. 5 in Division 5, will battle rival Duarte for Montview League supremacy.
Sierra Vista, which advanced to the quarterfinals last season, will feature sophomore shortstop Briana Moreno, who hit .319 with 17 RBIs. She also scored 31 runs. The pitchers include junior Angelina Ochoa.
The Falcons feature sophomore infielder Jada Richards, who hit .245 with 13 RBIs. She also scored 16 runs.
9. SOUTH EL MONTE
The Eagles are the favorite in the Mission Valley League.
South El Monte returns a strong nucleus, including junior shortstop Ashley Diaz, who hit .530 with 38 RBIs and 29 runs, and senior catcher/outfielder Brittny Zepeda, who hit. 462 with 29 RBIs. Junior Mia Luques is the leader in the circle with a 10-3 record and a 2.02 ERA last season.
10. WEST COVINA
The Bulldogs, with Mendez moving over from Amat, are expected to challenge Bonita in the Hacienda League.
The key returners are infielder/catcher Alex Rodriguez, who hit .464 with 22 RBIs and 25 runs and junior infielder/outfielder Jade Nua, who hit .394 with 21 RBIs.
By Stephen Ramirez, @SteveRRamirez on Twitter