Mike Terry / SFVS

Leading The Way — Chatsworth co-captains Lindsey Lowe and Kyla Gendler are trying to push their younger softball teammates back to the City Section Division I championship game.

The month of April is going to be an especially busy one for the Chatsworth softball team.

The defending City Section Division I champions have their bats and gloves full up to here thanks some rainouts — in Southern California, who knew — and an earlier mixup that resulted in their exclusion in February from the Hart Tournament, forccing Coach John Forgerson to scramble and find another event.

What that means now is Chatsworth winds up playing 21 games this month — and that includes games in the voracious West Valley League, while completing commitments in the Birmingham and High Desert Classic tournaments.

This is not how Fogerson team envisioned getting his 2016 prepared to defend its title. The Chancellors had lost seven starters from last year’s 30-5 team to graduation. By the beginning of league — which started Wednesday, April 6, against Granada Hills (results were unavailable at press time) — Fogerson had expected to blend the incoming junior varsity players with the holdovers from 2015 into a competitive unit. But so far, the Chancellors have only played 11 games, albeit with a 7-3-1 record after defeating Thousand Oaks on Monday, April 4.

“I’ve been doing this at the high school level for 14 years. (But this year it’s been a) little bit more than I expected because I don’t watch the JV players as closely. I’m not as fully aware of any shortcomings,” Fogerson said.

He said the program overall is interactive that both the JV and varsity players know each other well. Still,“it is about chemistry” on the field, Fogerson said.

The chemical mix may be bubbling to the surface. Fogerson is buoyed by recent additions Amanda Clark, a freshman who moved up from the junior varsity, and Adreana Martinez, a sophomore transfer from the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Clark, a second baseman, was so new that you still can’t find her name on the Chancellors’ roster posted on the Max Preps website. But in her first game against Poly on April 2, she had two hits in her first at-bats.

“We had prepared her, wanting her to get into as many JV games as possible, and they’ve already played 16 games,” Fogerson said. “She probably won’t pitch until next year, but we’re grooming her.”

Martinez is pitching, and helping to ease the burden on a Chancellors’ staff facing so many upcoming games. “She had some grade issues and personal issues that caused her to miss school,” Fogerson said. “But we got her straight online, and she is now allowed to play.”

One of the key returners was Kyla Gendler, who was 19-2 with 1.85 earned run average, and was the winning pitcher in the 6-5 victory against Carson in last year’s Division I final.

Gendler, a senior, knows she must help guide the newer players through this difficult stretch and be ready for the playoffs.

“(The returning starters) want to keep the goals clear, which is to get back to another championship,” Gendler said. “Even though we’ve already won one, we want another.

“Last year is in the past. We’re a whole new team. We have to show that it’s an organization here at Chatsworth, not just a couple of players. We have to keep the JVs and the rest of the team motivated going through hard times. It’s all about changing one player at a time.”

One player who’s already stepped up is Lindsey Lowe, a junior, who plays both infield and outfield. Lowe was able to blend into the background last year behind big hitters like Azmarheen Anderson and Vanessa Portillo, all the while delivering 42 hits and 28 RBIs. But opponents are going to concentrate more on her this year, until the Chancellors show strength throughout their lineup.

She admits her style is more “lead by example” than being overly demonstrative. At the same time, Lowe realizes Fogerson expects her to be more of a leader this season, “to try and bring what we had last year into this year,” even though many of those players were gone.

“We want to keep that spirit lingering on with this team,” Lowe said. “In the beginning it was a little slow. But now that we’re playing more games, we are starting to understand [what it takes] to bring that spirit back. Right now, you can see in the way we play there’s been a big change, and we’re gonna keep going.”  

Still, the month of April will test the Chancellors’ ability to focus and produce in part, Fogerson notes, because there are no easy games in the West Valley League. “Our top four teams were among the City’s Top 10 last year,” he said. And the other five league teams — Birmingham, Cleveland, El Camino Real, Granada Hills and Taft — are ready to take their best shots.

“It could come down to ‘who doesn’t win the game(s) they should,’” Fogerson said.

How does Chatsworth avoid that trap?

“Execution of fundamental skills,” the coach said. “If we play our game, we can compete with anybody. When we have our mental lapses, fail to execute, and squander opportunities, then anybody can beat us. Because of our youth, we are susceptible to that. So we must stay focused and execute.”