At 16-13 overall going into this week’s slate of games, it’s natural to think of the Eagles softball team of the Chavez Learning Academies as having been flying under the radar a bit in City Section Division I.
The team’s makeup feels like a deck of playing cards — a little of this and a little of that. Two seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and two freshmen make up the primary players on the roster. And it’s the challenging nonleague schedule that has dealt Chavez the majority of its defeats.
But that’s exactly the kind of team that often gets underestimated when the playoff brackets are announced, as they will be on May 4.
And the Eagles have the collective confidence — as well as enough offensive firepower and defensive grit — to make teams pay dearly for underestimating them.
“I do have a young group of girls,” noted Coach Stephanie Boshae. “But I have mainly the same group of girls I had last year. They are confident in what they can accomplish. And all of them have developed and have gotten better. We hope to make a run at a City Division I title.”
Chavez didn’t play its first varsity softball season until 2012. But by 2016 — coincidentally, Boshae’s first year as head coach — the Eagles won a City title, beating South East High of Southgate for the Division II championship.
Still, even fledgling programs don’t spend much time in a lower division if they win. Chavez was bumped up to Division I, where it has played ever since. Instead of bemoaning the fates, Boshae has been patiently building the program.
The steps may appear on the surface as incremental, but they have been lasting. In the 2017 Division I playoffs, the Eagles played well enough to earn a play-in game berth. Last year they finished second in the East Valley League, and reached the Division I semifinals before losing to eventual champion Cleveland High.
This season has three regular season league games remaining, starting with the April 24 contest against Grant. (The results were unavailable at press time.) Should the Eagles win two of those three games — and they were the East Valley’s only undefeated league team (9-0) — they would win their first ever East Valley title, which they consider just a step below a section championship.
The Eagles are “on course” in regards to their progression, Boshae said. “This year I can see it in the girls in general, just from getting that experience last year — half the team is sophomores, but they knew what to expect [this season], they knew the standard…they’re hungry to get a ring.”
As much as winning a City title would represent, the players agree that being the first Eagles squad to win a league title would feel special, especially if they can win it outright and unbeaten.
“As of right now we’re trying to uphold our league, trying to go undefeated for the first time; we’ve never done that before,” said Poala Rodriguez, a junior pitcher and third baseman. “That’s fun. We’re also trying to take (a City championship). We almost did it last year. But I think this year we have a big chance.”
Adds shortstop Jizzell Ruiz, a junior, “(a league title is) really important to me. I feel like we deserve to get it. We’ve been working really hard, and we have a good chance to get it. We just need three more games, and hopefully we can take it.”
Senior second baseman Amanda Alvarez was a freshman on the 2016 Division II championship team. She said even though it took some time, there is a similar cohesiveness to this year’s team.
“I think last year we lost a lot of seniors and that had a big impact on our team; that was a lot to us,” Alvarez said. “I thought it would take a little time for the chemistry to come to us…But we were building on it. We had to do some team bonding, but we got there.”
Should the Eagles win the league outright, it will make their potential playoff position all that more interesting.
Since the state’s top high school sports divisions are split into two brackets for the playoffs — Open Division and Division I — and playoff berths are selected by a computer algorithm developed for maxpreps.com, it begs the question: is it worth it for a very good team to be placed at the bottom of an eight-team Open Division bracket where in all likelihood it would lose its first playoff game to a higher seeded team, or be placed relatively high up in the 16-team Division I bracket where it has a much better chance of hoisting a trophy in late May?
“We are shooting to get into the Open,” Boshae said. “That’s the the goal every year. I’m pretty sure we will make the D-I playoffs; but if for some reason we get into the Open Division, we will definitely compete.
“The goal is to always set the standards high. Each year we are getting better. Making the Open Division is definitely a goal of ours as a softball program.
”It may be the ultimate goal but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the only goal in 2019. If the Eagles find themselves in the Division I bracket instead, it doesn’t mean the season is a failure. It just means they are continuing their progression as a program.
And they could still win themselves a championship.
“I want to see the girls’ determination to play at the level they know they can play at, and go [into the playoffs] knowing no matter who we face, we can beat any team thrown at us,” Boshae said. “The girls know that. They’ve come a long way with their confidence, and they know what they’re capable of.”