THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – With eight returning starters, head coach Debby Day and the Cal Lutheran softball team will be aiming for a return to the top of the Southern California Athletic Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) in 2013.
“Our goal this year is to make the SCIAC tournament,” coach Day said. “Our conference is tough, one of the best in Division III, but we think we can compete and our goal is to be in the top four [of the SCIAC] by the end of the season.”
CLU returns nearly all of its offensive firepower from a year ago. Out of 15 offensive categories, the Regals bring back the leader in 13 of the categories.
At the plate, the Regals improved in several offensive categories in 2012. After hitting .271 as a team in 2011, the Regals hit .292, while also pounding out 36 more hits, eight more doubles and knocking in 31 more runs in 2012. CLU also had seven triples on the year, which ranked third in the SCIAC.
Kayla Sakamoto, a Second-Team All-SCIAC outfield honoree last spring, returns after being the second toughest player to strike in Division III in 2012, with just one in in 143 plate appearances.
“Kayla is really fun to coach because she has so many tools,” coach Day said. “As a left-handed hitter, everybody perceives her as bunter or slapper because she’s fast but she can hit the ball over people’s heads. She’s so quick you can’t afford to be on your heels when she’s up to bat.”
Sakamoto led the Regals last season with a .366 average including three triples and 23 runs scored. The junior was also CLU’s top base-stealer, swiping 14 bases in 15 attempts.
Sakamoto will also return to patrol centerfield while Brittany Labbe shifts from first base to her natural position as an outfielder. Coach Day also expects to see contributions from senior Debben Hoffer and freshman Diamond Martinez.
The Regals will have a mix of new and old faces in the infield in 2013. Sophomore transfer Christina Hunter will line up at first base while Ryanna Morua, Katelyn Downing and Katrina Gutierrez will compete for time a second base. Junior transfer Kelly Lockwood is set to start at shortstop while Liz Mertel will start at third base for the second year in a row.
Danika Green returns in her designated player role in 2013 after hitting .312 with seven doubles, a homerun, and 23 RBIs during her sophomore campaign
Behind the plate, Cal Lutheran returns one of the top power hitters in the conference, Shannon Tinsley.
“Shannon is a fantastic catcher. She handles our pitchers really well, and she can hit the ball with a lot of pop,” coach Day said.
Tinsley was tied for third in the SCIAC with seven homeruns and was eighth with 11 doubles. She also hit .328 and led the team with 28 RBIs.
Despite her numbers, coach Day feels Tinsley’s biggest impact has been her leadership.
“She’s got a great attitude, she has confidence, she’s got accountability, things you can’t coach but it all has a positive impact on our team.
“Not only does she know the game but she knows our players and she knows where we want to go.”
Backing up Tinsley will be freshman Taylor Beacham, who coach Day calls “game-ready and a great hitter.”
Receiving signs from Tinsley will be Downing who led the Regals in innings pitched each of the last two seasons. CLU will also hope to get quality innings from Shonna Christianson, who is returning from an injury in 2012 as well as freshman Blake Lewis.
Overall, coach Day likes the current make-up of the team and the work ethic they have shown.
“We’ve got some great transfers and freshmen and we’ve got a good core group returning. I’ve been incredibly impressed by how hard they have worked and I think we should be in good shape for competing at the top of the conference.”
Cal Lutheran opens the season Friday, Feb. 1, when they host Whitworth for a doubleheader starting at 1:00 p.m. at Hutton Field.