M. Terry / SFVS

A Nice Blend — Senior outfielder Ruby Salzman (center) says the Chatsworth softball team has been helped tremendously by newcomers like sophomore pitcher Ava Justman (left) and freshman shortstop Amber Toven.

It was three years ago when Chatsworth had the Los Angeles City Section’s best softball team. And the Chancellors knew it. They drove their first-year coach John Fogerson — excuse the expression — a bit batty in route to winning 30 of 35 games, including the last eight in a row that culminated with the championship game win against Carson for the school’s first title in the sport.

“They went through a coaching and culture change that year,” Fogerson recalled. “It was tough at first getting them to buy in. They were fighting everything; they didn’t really know who I was and that was an adjustment. They felt they knew what they needed to know, but couldn’t get to the championship. But they were that good; they just didn’t know how to work together.”

Fortunately for the Chancellors, they figured it out so a highly talented squad didn’t see its season come up short.

The Chancellors this season also have great hitting, strong pitching and a stingy defense. They are 19-5 overall, but that’s only part of the story. Chatsworth is also riding a 15-game winning streak — the last loss was on March 17 to Santa Paula High in the Lincoln Classic Tournament — and wrapped up an unbeaten West Valley League season on May 4 with a 16-0 shutout of Birmingham.

The last time Chatsworth went undefeated in league? 2015.

“There’s definitely a similarity,” said outfielder and shortstop Ruby Salzman, who was a freshman on the 2015 team and is now a senior and captain of the 2018 squad.

“My freshman year we had two great pitchers. This year we have three. That team had big bats, big defense. I think we have the same thing now, and the mentality, too.”

 The coach doesn’t want to make comparisons; after all, the 2015 team did finish the season as champion.

But this group has earned the No. 2 seed in the City’s Open Division playoffs that open this week. Chatsworth will host San Fernando (18-11), seeded seventh, in the quarterfinals today, May 10, at 3 p.m.

And while this team has performed at a high level, it has not been a particularly high-maintenance group.

“This year, the girls all know what [the coaches] are doing and know the program,” Fogerson said. “They don’t like what we do all the time but they know it’s for the better. This team has believed from the beginning.”

None more so than sophomore pitcher Ava Justman, who transferred to Chatsworth from Granada Hills Charter High. She and her older sister Emily, a catcher who was attending Oaks Christian High in Westlake, wanted to attend the same school and play on the same team. Granada Hills did not have the availability to take in both girls. Chatsworth did.

Justman has a high level of confidence in her teammates.

“I know what this team is capable of, and I trust my defense and offense,” Justman said. “I know we all have each other’s backs.”

That doesn’t mean Chatsworth doesn’t have concerns.

The injury bug has been busy. Sophomore utility player Sophia Soriano has been out since February with a broken ankle. Natalie Perez, a junior who can also play multiple positions, is recovering from a broken finger. And pitcher Amanda Clack, a junior was injured in the Birmingham game and may not be ready to start the playoffs. The team doesn’t quite have the depth the coaches expected to have at this point in the season.

And Fogerson worries — as any head coach would, entering a one-and-done playoff format on a long winning streak — that the Chancellors may not have faced enough adversity to test all their mettle.

“We lost eight games on the schedule we have not been able to play for whatever reason. And several of those games were ones I figured would give us a real challenge,” Fogerson said. “I hoped we would [have gone into the playoffs] more battle-tested.”

It is what it is. And Chatsworth will be a formidable opponent for whoever faces it.

The Chancellors have a collection of mashers in their lineup. Six players have recorded at least 20 hits and five have scored at least 20 runs.

Justman has yet to lose this season (10-0). Her dominant fastball and complementary off-speed stuff has accounted for 76 strikeouts in 65 innings.

And then there’s the addition of freshman shortstop Amber Toven, a 14-year-old bundle of energy who bats left-handed. She is batting an imposing .557, leads the Chancellors in hits (44) and RBIs (36), and is tied with Salzman for the team lead in home runs with six. She is the kind of talent any team in the City or Southern sections would love to have.

“She chose to come to Chatsworth,” Fogerson said, adding that Toven also plays with a travel softball team based in Orange County. “She’s made some rookie mistakes, but she will be dynamite. She has room for improvement and is receptive to it.

“When we saw her in the fall, we knew we had something special. She also plays volleyball…just a phenomenal athlete.”

She’s also, refreshingly, just a kid. Toven may be focused on developing her skills and embracing whatever opportunities the softball world may provide, but she seems just as caught up in being a good teammate rather than an overbearing prodigy.

When asked what has been the best part about coming to Chatsworth, Toven replied, “being surrounded by older girls, not just ones my age. They’ve helped me mature faster. They’ve showed me the ‘rights’ and the ‘wrongs.’ They’ve treated me like a younger sister, and I look up to them as older sisters.”

She added that Salzman, in particular, has been a role model.

“Ruby is definitely someone I look up to. She’s led me in the right direction. And [all] the other girls are so unique; I clicked with them instantly,” Toven said.

Now comes the defining moment of the 2018 season. “There’s not much difference” between the eight teams that fill the Open Division, in Fogerson’s opinion, which suggests a potentially wide open, “on-any-given-day” playoff. That would mean the winner not only has to be good, but probably have a dash or two of good luck sprinkled in the mix.

Chatsworth is pretty sure it has the “good” part down pat.

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