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Eagles fly in the face of adversity

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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It’s been a season filled with adversity for Vista del Lago’s softball team, yet the Eagles are off to a 3-0 start in the Sierra Valley Conference and have a winning 8-5 overall record.

Entering the season, Vista coach Robert Reed had to replace six seniors who graduated in 2012, five of whom were starters. With only two seniors and three juniors on the roster, Reed knew he’d have to rely on some young players.

In the first game of the season, sophomore catcher Amanda Machado, one of the three returning starters along with senior shortstop Ashley Muzzi and junior pitcher Olivia Brown, tore her anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her right knee when her cleat got caught in the grass and now she’s out for the season.

That injury caused a big shuffle in an already young and thin lineup, as Reed moved Lindsey Fenton from third base to behind the plate, first baseman Emily Moran to second base and replaced her with outfielder Emily St. Dennis. Cherise Silvan also moved from second base to third.

That lineup left Brown and Muzzi as the only infielders who weren’t freshmen. Fenton, Silvan, St. Dennis and Moran have played key roles on the team and have done a commendable job.

“The freshmen have played well,” Brown said. “It’s a lot different than last year, but it still works.”

For their part, all four freshmen said the season is going well for them and the team.

“It’s not that big of a jump for me, as I’ve played competitively for a few years and I play with some upperclassmen on my fall ball team,” Fenton said. “It’s cool being a freshman on varsity. That’s what I wanted; to play four years of varsity softball.”

St. Dennis added, “At first I was nervous, but I’m starting to feel comfortable now. It’s nice to have the other freshmen there. I’ve grown up playing with them. The upperclassmen are all welcoming too.”

The team as a whole, including the freshmen, has rolled with the punches despite all the injuries and position changes.

“We’re really good at rallying in the face of adversity,” Moran said. “We practice with players at different positions and with my injury, Nicole (Bruns) moved in from the outfield to play third base.”

Silvan added, “I’ve had to change positions, going from second to third and back to second. It’s easy for me to change positions, but I’m glad to be back at second.”

Just when the girls were getting comfortable with their positions, Muzzi and Moran collided during practice March 25.

“I ran into Muzzi and bent my arm back into my body and I broke my radius,” Moran said. “Hopefully, I won’t be out for the season, but most likely I will be.”

With Moran out, Bruns moved from left field to third base and was replaced by sophomore Delaney Howard, while Silvan returned to second base after playing several games at third.

“The amazing part of all this is the girls have not gotten a ton of practice time because we are in season and they have all stepped up and given an effort to learn new positions,” Reed said. “This group just works hard and battles. Hopefully, we can stay healthy enough to finish strong.”

An off-the-field issue has also hurt the Eagles depth. Sophomore pitcher Stephanie Troja, who played for Folsom High last year, figured to help Brown with the pitching duties, but the Sac-Joaquin Section ruled that she could only play at the junior varsity level this season. That left Brown as the only true pitcher on this year’s team.

“It’s a lot of responsibility and pressure, but it’s helped me grow up a lot mentally and build myself up physically, which is good because that will prepare me for college softball,” Brown said. “At times I definitely get frustrated, but that’s when I rely on my teammates.”

As the consummate team player, junior outfielder Gaby Segura decided to try her hand at pitching, should Brown ever need a rest, or heaven forbid, goes down with an injury. Segura got her first chance to pitch this season last week against Oak Ridge, when the Trojans jumped out to an early 12-1 lead. Oak Ridge scored three runs of Segura, but it was solid and courageous effort.

“Gaby has stepped up to take on that back-up role,” Reed said. “She did a great job.”

Reed said early in the preseason that his goal for this team was to qualify for the playoffs. Right now, the team is tied for first in the Sierra Valley Conference, so bigger things may be in store. If this young team can get a taste of playoff experience, though, it will be a good stepping stone for even bigger things in the future.

“We’re battling through injuries and some girls are playing positions that they didn’t start the season in,” Reed said. “Our goal is to get wins we’re off to a 3-0 start in league and picked up some big wins at the Le Doux Tournament against St. Francis, Del Oro and Sutter. We want to learn and improve with every game.

“The kids have been great. One thing about this team is that they never give up and that’s what I’m excited about.”