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Nothing rank about this: Woodcreek softball is No. 1 in the state

Local rosters are young and small in numbers but loaded with talent
By: Bill Poindexter/Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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Rankings, national signing day, verbal commitments — they’re all the rage in today’s Internet-fueled coverage of high school sports.

There are arguments galore on how much rankings actually mean — or don’t mean — but they’re hard to ignore.

Woodcreek’s softball team is ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 3 nationally this week by www.maxpreps.com. The Timberwolves have beaten Sac-Joaquin Section powers Sheldon and Stockton-St. Mary’s and last week handed then-No. 8 Miami-Gulliver Prep its only loss on a four-game tour of Northern California.

“The kids are taking it in stride. We tell the girls they still have to go out and play. That’s the big thing,” Woodcreek coach Art Banks said this week. “It’s just a theoretical number. It’s all kind of mythical.”

Woodcreek has four seniors and nine juniors, six of whom started as freshmen.

Junior Amanda Horbasch anchors a rotating pitching staff that includes junior Lexi Wilkerson and sophomore Jenna Curtan. The Timberwolves will take a 0.23 earned-run average into Monday’s Sierra Foothill League opener at Granite Bay.

Horbasch has allowed 12 hits and no earned runs in 23 innings. She has 37 strikeouts. Banks said she emerged as “a very good pitcher” at the end of last season. Horbasch throws hard for her size (5-foot-4) and isn’t afraid to pitch inside. She has several pitches.

“I’d just as soon not discuss them all,” Banks said with a chuckle. “I let the batters try to find out what she’s throwing. It’s special with her right now, a little magical. She’s really working hard at being the best she can be.”

Behind the pitchers is “probably the best outfield we’ve ever had,” Banks said of juniors Nicole Miller and Alex Pratt in left and center and Curtan in right. Miller is hitting .500.

The left side of the infield has seniors Paige Davis and Courtney Johnson at shortstop and third base. Davis is hitting .588. Sophomore Christal Vierra has “a sweet glove” at second and power in the No. 3 spot in the order, and Horbasch and Wilkerson share time at first base.

Granite Bay

The Grizzlies are off to a 4-0 start with the same roster as last season, plus Kady Poulos, daughter of second-year coach Michele Granger. There are just 11 players on the roster, but they’re hitting a collective .441 with six home runs.

“They came in understanding what the expectation was, and they’ve been working hard,” the Olympic gold medalist said. “I make it very clear it’s not an activity. The kids that are here bought into that. We’re more prepared this year. We’re very fortunate to have kids that are just good kids.”

Outfielders Chasteena Determan and Delaney Humphrey are the only seniors on a roster with no superstars. Determan is hitting .500 with two homers and 11 RBI. Sophomore shortstop Nina Cook is hitting a torrid .714, and junior catcher/first baseman Gia France is at .583. Sophomore Claire Ellinwood also has a home run.

Lollie Garza possesses a valued skill for a catcher way beyond her sophomore year. Granger said Poulos was “falling apart” in the circle during a tough inning against Bella Vista in the season opener before Garza paid her a visit and talked her off the ledge. The Grizzlies then got an out and got out of the inning.

“We can gain some ground. We have the capability to surprise teams,” Granger said. “If we’re playing together, we’ll be hard to beat.”

Oakmont

The Vikings have two freshmen and five sophomores on their roster of 12, but they’ve responded under new coach Rick Ramirez with a 3-3 start, including an impressive 4-0 victory over recent Division I title contender Pleasant Grove.

Sophomore Savannah Loomis pitched a four-hitter, struck out seven and had two hits in that game.

“She’s better hitting than she is pitching believe it or not,” said Ramirez, who served as an assistant baseball coach for 22 years at Oakmont. “The kids I have right now, they are giving me everything every day. We’re going six days a week. They’re showing up and they’re practicing.”

The middle infield is anchored by senior team captains Krista Bedford at second and Marisa Andrade at short. Bedford signed with Adams State College of Colorado.

Meanwhile, the Vikings have freshmen Marissa Warren and Krysten McCue at catcher and in center field.

“If we play catch, we can play with anybody,” Ramirez said. “We’re defense, defense, defense, defense. That’s what they want to work on, because we can hit.”

That starts with junior pitcher/first baseman Tiara Turner, who’s hitting .471 with two homers. Sophomore Justine Garner is hitting .467.

Roseville

The Tigers have four sophomores and two freshmen in roster spots vacated by nine seniors that went 21-7 last season and advanced to the losers’ bracket final in the Division II playoffs.

“The key for the team’s success will be to work the hardest on the field, develop team chemistry and to compete every time we step on the field,” coach Jennifer Birch said.

So far, so good. The Tigers have started 5-1-1 on the strength of a .388 team batting average, the 1-2 pitching punch of juniors Delany DeMello and Kayla Fields and a defense that has committed two errors in seven games.

Lollie Fitzpatrick, who has signed with Saint Mary’s College, is one of the top shortstops in the area. She’s also hitting .474 with two three-run homers and 14 RBI. Catcher Kalei Levy received a scholarship from Webber International University in Florida, where she’ll join sister and former Roseville pitcher Kiana Levy. Kalei Levy is hitting .478.

Sophomore Taylor McDowell is hitting .619, senior Breeana Martinez .571, DeMello .500, and the list goes on.

In the circle, DeMello and Fields have combined to allow just 16 hits in 34 innings. DeMello, with 28 strikeouts, has a 0.39 ERA. Fields has 21 strikeouts and a 1.31 ERA. Freshman Naomi Monahan is getting opportunities at the plate and in the circle.

Valley Christian

Last season, the Lions had a senior class that went for — and achieved — its third league championship in the school year. The seniors won Sacramento Metro Athletic League titles in volleyball, basketball and softball.

This season’s team has no seniors. Auburn Christian transfer Katie Urban will pitch, catch and play shortstop. Sarah Finnell, Keri McClintock and Erin Patterson provide experience and power at the plate. All are juniors.

After that, Valley Christian has six freshmen breaking in on the varsity level, including Cassidy Bowen, who also will pitch.

“We have so much potential,” Lions coach Shawnda Bowen said. “I look forward to watching the progress of the newer girls as the season goes by. It’s been awhile since I’ve had to rebuild, but that’s the fun part, getting to watch them grow.”