Season-opening double header at San Jose Friday

Last season Porterville College softball fielded a team of nearly all freshmen and had their best season in three years. 

Now with eight players returning and more vying for starting positions, the Lady Pirates are shaping up for another strong season under longtime head coach and 2019 PC Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, Vickie Dugan.

Porterville went 18-19 on the overall 2018 season and finished fifth in the Central Valley Conference with a 10-11 record. The Pirates were nothing short of impressive by opening the season on a 10-game win streak and outscoring opponents 134-14 over those first games. 

But this season PC is  facing a tougher schedule that’ll have them prepared for the competitive CVC. Porterville opens on the road with a 12 p.m. doubleheader at San Jose City College, a Coast-South Conference team that was seeded eighth and went to the second round of Northern California regionals last year.

“I knew that I would have returning pitchers and that’s always a huge thing,” Dugan said. “Not knowing last year what I would get in, we did have an easier preseason. And I think that helped us cause we found success early, which built our confidence. This year we’re starting out tough. Ohlone, San Jose. Those are tough teams. So we’ll get tested better.”

Back on the mound for the Pirates are sophomores, Ashley Eyraud (Monache High) and Alexis “Smalls” Rodriguez (Tulare Western High). As a freshman, Rodriguez went 8-8 with a 2.88 ERA and 65 strikeouts to 24 walks. Eyraud was 8-6 last season with a 3.67 ERA and 42 strikeouts to 17 walks. 

On the two, Dugan said Eyraud is throwing with more velocity after training in the offseason on top of in the fall with the team while Rodriguez’s ball is moving well. 

“They’re coming in with experience,” Dugan said. “They had to have their feet to the fire as freshman pitchers last year. They’ve had a year to settle down and settle into it. Be more relaxed on the mound, maybe know the hitters a little bit better. They’re going to do alright. They’re going to give us outs.”

Backing up Eyraud and Rodriguez to the left will once again be third baseman Chelsea Ramos (Monache) and shortstop Shantae Gutierrez (Orange Cove High). With last year’s starting second baseman Raquel Gonzalez (Lindsay High) possibly missing all of the team’s February games for basketball, and the team not set on a first basemen, those two spots are up for the taking. 

“The right side is still up for grabs,” Dugan said. “Whoever earns those spots. [Kuea “Kiki” Angilau from Utah] came in midway and she’s a first baseman. [Porterville High’s Annisa Gomez has] been here since fall, both of them are good hitters. The obvious thing, and the thing that I’ve told them, is we have to have our bats in. So people who are hitting, we’re going to find spots for them out in the defense. So the right side, and the outfield as well, is still up for grabs.”

Dugan expects the team’s outfield to be fast but they’ve lost last year’s starting centerfielder, Sophia Carrillo (Porterville High) in the outfield. Carrillo is now the team’s starting catcher where she is vocal and aggressive. THe sophomore also had a strong offseason where she worked on her transition and has a quicker release time. 

“If they’re going to take a lead, she’s going to gun them,” Dugan said about Carrillo. “She’s got a good throw. I keep telling her to be loud and large. And so all fall, we’ve been working on being loud and large. Running the defense. ... She’s going to add some strength in the catching position. She’s going to be aggressive on the runners.”

Offensively the Pirates remain strong at the plate with Ramos still in the order. Last season Ramos was selected first-team All-Central Valley Conference, first-team All-Northern California and first-team All-American. She was Porterville College’s first All-American in recent history. 

And pitchers beware because if leading the state in on-base percentage (.630) and having the third best batting average (.564) wasn’t enough, Ramos is feeling even better this season.

“I feel mentally strong, physically strong,” Ramos said. “Just so much stronger.”

Pitching around Ramos won’t be easy with Gutierrez, who hit .342 last season, also back. Dugan added that Angilau is also another power hitter while Gomez and Auzia Mosley (Idaho) are proving to be hitters as well. 

“I don’t think we’re going to lose a beat,” Dugan said. “Anissa, who played for Porterville High, she’s swinging a good bat. Kiki, who we picked up in January, swinging a good bat. Shantae’s swinging a better bat now then she did last year. Chelsea’s going to stay on the same course that she has been. So I think we actually added some depth to our hitting. And Mo from Idaho, it might be midseason cause we had to change some things on her form [but] I think she’s going to develop into a good hitter.” 

The sky’s the limit for Porterville with the combination of returning sophomores and freshmen bursting to prove themselves. Unlike last season when the Pirates had to spend time getting to know one another, they’ve connected and become sisters already so they can hit the ground running for another big season.

“This season I believe it’s better because last season we weren’t as close as we are this season because we were all newbies,” Gutierrez said. “So being newbies, we [didn’t] know each other. So getting to know each other throughout the season coming into this season, it made us stronger. A lot stronger compared to last season. So this season I believe it’s going to be a good season.”

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