With a mix of youth and experience, Laguna Beach High’s softball team scored lopsided victories in its first two games of the Costa Mesa Mustang tournament last Saturday to run its record to 2-1 going into a Tuesday game against Corona del Mar.
The Breakers beat a tough Artesia team from Lakewood 16-2 in the tournament opener. Later that day, they beat Capistrano Valley’s JV squad 15-3. “We were all over that scoreboard,” said pitcher Haley Putnam, who picked up the win against Artesia, giving up only three hits and one earned run while striking out six in four innings of work.
With a solid schedule of tough opponents waiting, including division II Newport Harbor in tonight’s third-round tournament game, the Breakers have a difficult road to travel to reach their goal of making it to the post season.
Last year Laguna was handed what many on the team felt was an underserved CIF at-large bid. “We want to earn it on our own this year,” said new head coach Alan Ludloff, who took over for Mike Hunter in the offseason.
Whether they earned it or not, the varsity squad advanced to CIF after playing its first full slate of games in three seasons. They finished 10-9 overall and 5-5 in league play to revive a struggling program that was suspended in 2007. “We didn’t even have nine girls that wanted to play,” recalled Athletic Director Mike Churchill last year.
Juniors Putnam, Kennedi Gheradini and Cory Kent form the nucleus of a team that starts three freshmen, and two sophomores, and has only two seniors on its roster. Although young, many of the starters began playing together in elementary school and have years of club experience. “The girls we have in the program now are committed softball players,” said Ludloff.
“It doesn’t matter what grade your in. It’s all the same,” said freshman pitcher Halle Redfearn, whose experience competing on a 16 and under travel team last year gives her confidence to face older, more experienced batters.
Redfearn is the perfect compliment to the hard-throwing Putnam. “I’m not one of the pitchers that speeds it in and gets it right past everyone,” said Redfearn, who picked up the win over Capistrano Valley with a solid four innings of work.
“She’s crafty. She can hit her spots,” said Ludloff of his versatile young hurler, who throws seven different pitches. “She controls them pretty well.”
Putnam started every game for the Breakers last year, and is looking forward to a little relief on the mound. “It will make me a better pitcher knowing that I have someone else behind me,” she said.
Riding a wave of confidence from their somewhat surprising success last season, the girls returned to the field in September, ready to learn Ludloff’s new system. “You can’t go all summer and not pick up a ball or swing a bat and expect just to show up and good things happen,” he said of his early call to practice.
Hoping to build a good work ethic and solid fundamentals, Ludloff started his new team off with the basics. “I teach from the feet up,” he said. “If your footwork is bad, everything else has to catch up.”
Defense was the team’s weak spot last year, so Ludloff preaches repetition in practice, fielding grounders and fly balls in bunches until it becomes second nature. “You’ve got to know what to do with the ball before it’s hit to you,” he said.
“They’re really concentrating on getting their gloves down,” echoed Putnam, who, as team captain, tries to keep the younger players focused.
Eager to apply what they learned over the past weeks and months, the girls opened their season on the road against division II powerhouse JSerra. The Breakers were summarily dispatched 17-3 in a game they didn’t expect to win but needed to play in order to find out what they were made of. “They’re a monster team,” said Ludloff, but “we got to play those tougher teams. You’re not going to get better beating teams 10, 12 nothing.”
The girls took their lumps, learned from their mistakes and decided as a group to strive for the ideal JSerra had demonstrated. “We walked away from that [loss] saying, ‘yeah we do want that,’ and we kind of brought that attitude into the tournament,” said Ludloff.
As the starting shortstop, Kent is one of the better defenders on the team. Most of her attention this offseason has been at the plate, and so far it’s paid off. She has eight hits, including two doubles and a homer, in 10 at bats. “I’m just really focused on the fundamentals of trying to hit the ball and paying attention to the pitcher and not getting psyched out by the other team,” she said.
Seniors Carissa Collins and Samantha Purll, junior Karina Reiss, sophomores Jordan Hartman and Veronica Clancey and freshmen Katyn Ott and Jennifer Sorenson make up the rest of a squad that is hitting .562 with 11 extra base hits in three games.
Ludloff sees his team starting to gel as they begin to build respect for themselves and earn it from others. After their two wins, “Some of the girls said, ‘I’m going to go home and post this on Facebook,’” he said. “I think that’s a good sign that they are pulling together.”