When is going 72-8 over the last two seasons a bad thing?
Well, when you are the College of San Mateo softball team and you have those who follow your program expecting that sort of success to endure or pour over to, at the very least, the 2014 season.
So, as the Bulldogs prepare for a new year of softball, rule No. 1 is to remember that last season was last season — and while the players are different, the message is never going to change: CSM expects to play well and contend just like they always have.
“When you go 72-8 in two seasons, it’s hard to match,” said CSM head coach Nicole Borg. “I don’t care who you are or what program you’re a part of — it’s amazing. So, yes, we have been spoiled.
“The freshmen class is enormous. It’s exciting. We have kids from a lot of different places this year. It’s just going to a young year. I think we’re going to make some mistakes — and that’s OK. We’re going to keep getting better as we have throughout the fall. And it’s not really a matter of where you start but where you finish. I think this team has a lot of potential to get to that level.”
Here’s the bad news: Of that stellar team that dominated two regular seasons and made it to the state Final Four last year, only three players are returning starters — and only a total of five have Bulldog experience. As is the case with most community college programs, the time has come to once again rebuild and hope that the handful of sophomores that do return serve as the proper foundation for a successful season.
The good news is, if you had your pick of returning starters, the two you’d want are back in uniform this season. For CSM, Natalie Saucedo (Burlingame) and Talisa Faime (Terra Nova) are those players. While Borg has never been one to disclose early lineup looks, it’s highly likely that they will anchor the 3-4 holes in the lineup and command an always-strong infield defense.
“Talisa and Natalie last year were phenomenal for us,” Borg said. “Clutch hitting, clutch situations. Talisa came through on a number of occasions — Super Regionals being one of them. Hitting 10 homeruns for us as a freshman was unbelievable. And Nat played any role we needed her to play. Her stick was always consistent — whether we needed her in the outfield or first base, she was willing to do whatever we needed her to do. So, having those players do what they do on a consistent basis is huge. They’re going to be difference-makers this year. And they know that.”
“There is no pressure, but you have to go out and play the role that you play,” Saucedo said. “You can’t think about last year. We had a bunch of success and that was awesome. But you have to focus on this year and I think we’re going to do pretty well.”
Admittedly, the rest of the team involves some guessing and hoping — mainly that the new Bulldogs can adjust to this new speed of softball. Something that is a little clearer is that former Woodside Wildcat Ashley Miller will need to have a monster year in the circle for CSM. Miller is on her second year of eligibility after sitting out last year as a red shirt. Now, the big bulk of the responsibility falls on the lefty. Borg said Miller is ready.
“Ashley is doing a great job. I think her maturity, from when she first started with us is like night and day. Her expectation is that she is going to be the big dog. She wants to come in a make a difference. Her work ethic is great. Her conditioning is great. Her academics have stepped up. She’s totally focused on the task at hand. She said, ‘I watched 46 games last year and I died every time because I wanted to be the one in the circle. I wanted to be the one helping the team win.’ Going through that as an athlete made all the difference in the world for her. She’s going to be big for us this year. I’m really excited to see what she can do.”
CSM’s 2014 team has a different feel than other freshmen-heavy squads Borg has coached. Of the 18 players listed on her roster, only eight would be considered local, San Mateo County products. The Bulldogs will field players from as far south as San Diego’s Mater Dei High School, two from James Logan and a couple of girls from American. All these programs have storied histories and know more than a thing or two about winning.
A couple of those newcomers will be counted on to provide support in the circle for Miller — Ashleynne Neil and Lacie Crawford. Also seeing some time on the slab will be Lauren Berriatua, formerly of Notre Dame-Belmont.
“Our pitching staff is going to be huge this year. I don’t know if I can say there is one that is sticking out and saying I’m going to pitch the majority of the innings. We have four pitchers that can do a great job. I don’t know how many teams in the state can say that.”
The new faces continue throughout the lineup, but Borg said that 1 through 18 — with the exception of Miller — the Bulldogs can put bat to ball. But because of the zero live-game experience thus far, it’s really hard to tell what CSM really has other than potential.
Chief among those prospects is Mercedes Covarrubias, an outfielder from American. She’ll be complemented by Raquel Martinez who was called “one of the most dynamic players we have” by Borg. “There’s a lot of adjustments that we still need to make. The kids we are going to count on were really successful in high school — but this is not high school pitching anymore.”
Borg also mentioned the contributions of former Aragon Don Brooke Ramsey, Kayleen Wilkerson, Kayleen Smith and Leilani Akai. “She’s going to be a difference-maker,” Borg said of the heir-apparent Jamie Navarro’s old position. “The expectations are already really high,” Borg said.
“I think the coaching staff understands this is yearly process. You can’t take what we did in 2013 and push it into 2014. I think for student athletes, it’s harder because the expectation is, they’re just going to go out on the field and it’s going to be like last year. No, you have to build that again. And that is the hardest thing about being a part of a community college sport. You’re constantly rebuilding. It’s getting kids to buy into what you’re selling and doing it early so that you don’t have those early mistakes and you have a successful season. “