It had been a productive couple of days for the San Fernando softball team. On Saturday, April 11, the Tigers were competitive in a close loss to Newbury Park, 4-2, and upended a solid Poly team, 5-1, in a tournament at Birmingham High. On Monday, April 13, they pulled off a rare triple play — started by a diving catch in right field by Cynthia Copado — in beating back a stubborn but error-prone Panorama team, 15-4.
It’s that kind of effort that has Coach Daniel Arguello excited about this year’s squad.
“I’ve already seen a lot of plays we didn’t think we could make before that we are making this year,” he said. “And it’s making the game exciting.”
But this week would bring out the Tigers’ biggest obstacle to winning the Valley Mission League — neighborhood rival Kennedy High.
Both teams were undefeated in league going into their first meeting on Wednesday, April 15, at Kennedy. The second contest is at San Fernando on May 4.
San Fernando had the better overall record going into the game (16-6, 6-0) because it had played more games than Kennedy (8-4-1, 5-0). But there is no doubt who was favored.
Since 2005, according to records at maxpreps.com, the Golden Cougars have won four league titles outright and shared three others. One of those shared championships was with San Fernando, in 2013. Otherwise, the Tigers have won one outright league championship (in 2011) over that same span.
Perhaps even more galling to San Fernando and its fans is their 6-14 record against Kennedy during this stretch. The Cougars have swept the two-game season series six times to twice by the Tigers. In two other seasons, the teams split their two games.
Kennedy has often had an edge in talent. But the 2015 Tigers have legitimate reasons to believe they match up with the Cougars on the field.
Arguello feels strongly about his seniors, arguably the best grouping he’s had since the 2011 team that was 23-6 overall. He said it starts with pitcher Breanna Cabrera, a four-year varsity player, and includes stalwarts like catcher Sarina Cruz and first baseman Mia Lopez.
“They get everybody to play on the same page,” Arguello said. “Breanna motivates the girls to perform at their highest level. She does it mainly by example, but she will also take them aside and remind them their talent is needed for our team to be successful. Sarina speaks to the team after every game. Mia not only motivates the girls to be successful on the field, but also in the classroom.
“You go as far as seniors take you, and they are doing very well this year,” he said.
Cabrera (8-3, 3.95, three shutouts), 17, doesn’t overwhelm you with size or raw power but does possess a quiet grit that makes her ideal for handling the responsibility of being the number one starter, and being a role model for her teammates.
“I’ve learned from the previous seniors what to do and what not to do,” Cabrera said. “I try to lead mostly by example, and hope to inspire others to work as hard.”
One of the things she learned, Cabrera said, was to make new teammates comfortable as soon as possible. That has paid off handsomely with several transfers that came to San Fernando, most notably Rianna Salgado, a sophomore, who came over from Valencia High.
Salgado, 16, didn’t play at all last year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament tear in her right knee. But she is healthy this season, and the third baseman has already smacked five homers for the Tigers.
“I’d heard [the team was] pretty good, and that the coaches were nice. So I wanted to come here,” Salgado said. “I thought it would be fun. And it has been fun — the practices, the girls are really nice. Once I got here, I got along with everyone really well.”
Salgado — along with transfers Jessica Jimenez (from Alemany) and Janessa Garcia (from Kennedy), who both became eligible this week — gives San Fernando a level of depth and talent it hasn’t always enjoyed. What needs to continue, the players said, is the collective gelling of the team. But Salgado said the recent Easter break tournament in Las Vegas “has helped” speed along the process.
“I think now, our team has come a lot closer,” she said. “We are more like family now. We know each other and we trust each other a lot more. That shows on the field.”
Arguello believes he has a team not only capable of playing with Kennedy, but other Valley powers like Chatsworth, El Camino Real, and Poly, and perhaps two-time defending City Division I champion Carson.
But it starts with Kennedy, and the rest of the Valley Mission League.
“They are the biggest obstacle in our path to continue to league and City,” Arguello said about the Cougars. “When both programs go up against each other we battle head-to-head. The talent goes back and forth…they get it couple of years, we get some. But I feel good about our group. You have to have that confidence going into games like that.”
Not only in league but the playoffs. It’s too soon for the players to think about the postseason, but not about what it will take to get there and compete.
“If we really work hard enough and the girls want to win it…and they play like they say they want it, I think we have a good chance,” Salgado said.
Adds Cabrera, “One of our goals is to be the sole league champ. It’s been one of our goals for awhile. So it would mean a lot to do it. It would be the first step going into the playoffs. It would give us a lot of momentum. We’ve never won a City title so we’re pushing for it.”