Postponements related to the coronavirus pandemic have kept high school spring sports teams from enjoying Northern California’s first dry March in three years.
Robert Poppe, in his second season as head coach of the Vintage High softball program, can’t help but feel a little frustrated about it.
“Nobody has taken the stoppage easily,” he said Wednesday. “We put in a lot of work at conditioning and practice so we can compete in a game we love, and to have that taken away stinks.
“I totally understand the situation and support the school’s decision; we want all our kids safe. It doesn’t mean it still doesn’t stink, though.”
The Crushers (3-1-1) are hoping to vie for the Vine Valley Athletic League title after finishing 14-7 overall and 8-4 in the VVAL last year, in a three-way tie for second place with American Canyon and Petaluma behind champion Napa High.
Poppe said he just misses practicing with his young team of three seniors, one junior, seven sophomores and one freshman. He could only send them off with advice after their last workout together on March 12.
“I just recommended that they keep working on their individual things – throwing, catching, hitting, pitching, etc. – at home,” he said.
The team returned 11 of last year’s 14 non-seniors.
Now the seniors are fourth-year varsity starting outfielder Morgan Groves, shortstop Sarah Husted and Gracey Shelfo at second base.
“I feel bad for all the girls on the team, especially Mo, Gracey and Sarah. They are three wonderful kids in school and on the field, and they are all starters,” the coach said. “To have their season cut short is a sad feeling.
“Gracey missed a lot of her junior year with an injury that caused her some medical issues. She has battled back this year, earned a starting spot and had some nice at-bats. I would love the chance for her and my other seniors to finish their senior year on the softball field.”
Groves, who hit .406 with team highs of 32 RBIs and 8 home runs last year, has played in only one game as a senior because of choir and dance, Poppe said. But she hasn’t seemed distracted by other commitments when on the field.
“She leads by example. She focuses at practice, she is never a distraction and, on game day, she comes ready to compete with a smile on her face,” Poppe said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more. She is a joy to be around.”
Husted also leads with her actions.
“Sarah is not as boisterous as her other teammates, but she will give us 100% effort on every defensive play – all practice long and all game long,” Poppe said. “She can cover a lot of ground at shortstop. She gets pop-ups in the infield and pop-ups in the outfield, she dives, she throws from her knees, and she hustles all seven innings.
“She is constantly determined to get every ball that’s put in play in her area. She is always one of the first kids on the field every day at practice ready to get to work – priceless.”
Starting in center field for the third straight year is the team’s lone junior, lefty-batting leadoff hitter Jordan Allen. She is hitting .385 with 5 hits so far.
“Jordan is a wonderful kid with a tremendous amount of athleticism,” Poppe said. “She leads stretches and warm-ups at practice, and uses her voice at practice to help communicate with her teammates as far as positioning and back-up responsibilities go.”
Six sophomores also return to the varsity – Raimy Gamsby and Shelby Morse in the pitching circle, Emilee Duncan at first base, and Bianca Avalos, Camila Barboza and Kelsey Lauritsen in utility roles.
Gamsby leads the team not only with 19 innings pitched and 35 strikeouts but also in batting with a .462 average and 6 hits, including the team’s only triple.
“Raimy is a great kid. She’s fun to be around and she speaks her mind,” said Poppe. “She puts in a lot of work to pitch as well as she does and she is seeing the ball really well when batting, which is why we moved her up in the lineup. She leads the team by example in games, focused and determined, and at practice she will use her voice to help keep everyone moving in the same direction.”
Duncan is hitting .333 with 5 hits while manning first base, and Morse is fourth with a .312 clip and 5 hits.
Along with pitching 15 innings and tallying 22 strikeouts, Morse has played at first base and in right field, where she has shown a knack for throwing out batters at first base. She leads not only with her actions but with words.
“Shelby is loud and boisterous. She carries a positive energy around, talks to everyone and is excited to be on the field every day,” Poppe said. “She is dominant in the circle when it’s her turn to shine, bats in the No. 2 slot, and can play first base as well as track fly balls down in the outfield.”
Lauritsen brings her own versatility to the varsity level for the first time.
“Kelsey is a great kid (and) she can play eight of the nine positions on the field,” Poppe said.
Morse and Gamsby are pitching to sophomore catcher Brianna Perez for the first time.
“I was really looking forward to working with Brianna,” Poppe said. “She has a great attitude towards softball and is willing to learn. We are looking forward to a fun season with her growing behind the plate, and at the plate when hitting, too.”
Lone freshman Xitlali Mora is also a utility player.
“We have big plans for Xitlali in the varsity program,” said Poppe. “She is fast and athletic and will add a spark to our program – most likely as a middle infielder, but her options are unlimited.
“I honestly think every kid in our program has something special to offer us in her own way. It’s a great group of kids.”
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