*Editor’s note: This is the first in a 12-part series previewing Davis High’s spring sports.
How on Earth does a softball team make up for the graduation of five players who combined to score 142 runs last season?
Gone are Haley Cameron, Melanie Habib, Megan Winton, Rita Allen-Sutter and Chelsea Brent — and with them went the nucleus of Davis High’s most prolific offense.
But second-year coach Art Guerra isn’t worried. He believes that while his 2013 Blue Devils are “very, very young,” they have the potential to smack the ball around — and should be “right in the mix” for another Delta Valley Conference championship.
But exactly how will the locals reload?
“That’s a great question,” says the former Natomas skipper. “I don’t think you’re ever going to replace (bats like last year). That group was special, hit very well and were clutch.
“Do we have the potential to hit like that again? Yes. But we are young. There might be concern early in the season, but by the time we get to league, I know we’ll be in great shape – and for some time to come because of how young we are.”
Returning from last year’s 21-7 squad are catcher Stephanie Cello, infielders Kaitlyn Lagattuta and Sydney Rosenblum, Tarah Kalinen and late-season call-ups Ashley Dufresne and Sarah Allen-Sutter.
Rosenblum, Kalinen and Cello will be the only seniors in blue-and-white, as DHS will feature nine juniors, fours sophomores and two freshmen.
A big difference from last year comes with the Devils’ versatility. While one size doesn’t quite fit all, Guerra has lots of options each time he fills out this spring’s lineup cards.
Take catcher, for instance. Four can play the position, but the veteran Cello will be the go-to girl with the mask.
“Stephanie has been the pride and joy of camp,” the coach explains. “Her work ethic is second to none and we’re very happy with her play.”
Should Cello — who hit .348 while scoring 26 runs last year — need a break, Dufresne, Kalinen and sophomore Emily Ginn can all don the gear.
But that trio can play elsewhere, so Guerra says to look for Dufresne and Kalinen — along with Madi Yule — competing for time at first base.
With scrimmages set for Monday at Antelope High, the Davis coaches will be taking looks at all three.
“We’ll know a lot more about who we are after Monday,” Guerra says. “I can’t wait for Monday … because we’ll face that live, high school-level pitching. It will be a test for some of our younger players who are used to under-14 softball.”
Two proven veterans — Rosenblum and junior Lagattuta — will be the Blue Devil keystone combo, however, Guerra isn’t sure which player goes where …
“One will win the shortstop position, the other will be the second baseman,” Guerra explains, noting that the duo are familiar with each other, should excel at the plate and bring experience in the varsity trenches.
Freshman Faith Harlan and sophomore Allen-Sutter are expected supply insurance at middle infield.
At third base, Maddie Asta is coming off of a brilliant junior varsity season. The right-handed-hitting junior will be pushed by versatile Emily Ginn — a sophomore who also can play the outfield. Guerra will be looking for a spot for Ginn so he can keep her potentially big bat in the lineup.
Neia Wixson joins the infield corps and should see time at a number of spots, while Ciara Brown is another one of Guerra’s play-anywhere juniors who the coach sees emerging as a key role player.
Replacing the brilliant Habib, now playing at Pacific, will be herculean accomplishment, but Guerra says he likes what he sees: “Our infield will be fine. Whoever wins the spot will have earned it and should play well for us.”
Speaking of the outfield, when the first pitch is thrown, there will be a new cast of characters patrolling those lush Devil pastures.
The starting three should come out of a group that includes Danielle Styers, Yule, freshman Catherine Slabaugh, Olivia Schmidt and Ginn.
Guerra believes Styers and Slabaugh have pushed each other in a preseason battle for center field — taking over for graduated four-year starter Winton.
With seven in the hunt for outfield playing time, the coach says “it will come down to who can hit. That’s why these early scrimmages are so important.”
One area where DHS is expected to be vastly improved is in the pitching circle.
Despite the Blue Devils hitting .351 last season, fans remember that they allowed eight or more runs five times in the second half of 2012. It was pitching that failed them in their 2-2 playoff run.
Allen-Sutter and sophomore classmate Madi Benner — with junior Rachel DeMarco “sticking right with them” — look to have inherited the hurling duties.
“I think they’ll grow up really fast,” Guerra says. “They can all throw; they just need experience at the varsity level.”
Like the coach says, everyone will know a little more after Monday’s exhibitions. Then comes a weekend scrimmage at Pioneer before kicking off the regular season at Antelope on Feb. 26. On March 1 and 2, Davis will host its own 12-team tournament. The Devils meet Rio Linda (10:45 a.m.) in the tourney opener that Friday.
“By the time we get to league, our kids will be right in the thick of it,” Guerra adds. “Our expectations right now are we will win league. I think we will. I think we’re that good. … I really do.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.