Discovery Charter Preparatory High School doesn’t have the deepest pool of softball players to draw from — unless you consider a 255-student body population the equivalent of the Pacific Ocean.
Yet this young 2019 Warriors team — with 11 sophomores, one junior, one senior and one freshman on its roster — went undefeated in the North Valley for the program’s first outright league championship. They are the seventh seed in the City Section Division II bracket, and will host 10th seed Verdugo Hills today, May 9, in the first round of the playoffs.
And they don’t plan on a short playoff visit. “We can go farther than where we went last year,” said sophomore catcher Destiny Villanueva matter-of-factly.
The Warriors place great faith in a quartet of blossoming stars that Coach William Diaz dubbed “The Nightmare Sisters” — Villanueva, pitcher and fellow sophomore Samantha Flores, junior third baseman Taylor Rodriguez, and freshman utility infielder Victorie Leon. “They’re a nightmare for whoever has to defend against them,” Diaz said
None of the four is batting lower than .398 or has fewer than 29 hits. They typically bat second through fifth in the lineup and do a great job of sustaining rallies for Discovery, which averages a shade under 11 runs a game.
However, it wasn’t that long ago — 2007 to 2016 — that Discovery Prep went through 10 consecutive seasons with a losing record. Diaz, who became the head coach in 2013, endured four of those losing seasons before getting the Warriors on the plus side of the ledger.
“When I got there in 2013 we were more like a park-and-rec team,” Diaz said. “And then in 2014 I actually got my first team I was able to work with. But I still didn’t have kids I had worked with 3-4 years.”
He credits former player Rosa Ortega, a catcher who played for Discovery from 2014-17 and now attends Pierce College, for helping establish a sense of purpose and identity for the team.
“[Ortega] played four years here (121 games) without missing one game,” Diaz said. “That pushed the other kids to see the kind of the commitment, the kind of responsibility (that comes with being part of the team).
“Rosa showed us what was possible if we put the work into it.”
Rodriguez was a freshman when Ortega was a senior, and backs Diaz’ assessment. “She was a really big motivator and a good inspiration as a captain. She was always on top of you to make sure you were learning,” she said.
Still, Diaz took a leap of faith last year by primarily starting seven freshman, in part so this band of Warriors could grow as a group. The team responded by winning 16 games, 13 of them in the North Valley League, which helped them tie Lakeview Charter High for the championship. The Warriors entered the City Division III playoffs as a third seed, and reached the semifinals before losing to Grant.
The Warriors took inspiration from their progress. And when the players returned for this season, they could measure their growth in other ways.
“Honestly, my mental strength…I was really weak in the ninth grade,” Flores said. “I’d always been like that and my coaches before Coach Willy were really strict and mean to me. But he built my mentality and confidence.”
“I’ve [also] grown mentally,” Villanueva said. “When I first started, everything would get to me. Now I know the game and I know it’s just a game. We’re here to have fun and we shouldn’t take everything so much to heart.”
Leon, the precocious freshman who can play all four infield positions, had no trouble fitting in with her teammates “because I know most of them from travel ball and Little League…it’s really fun; kinda like a family.”
The 20-6 record this season is already the most wins in school history. It may be just the beginning for a group that — barring a mass exodus by transfer — can be together 1-2 more years.
Rodriguez hopes so. She likes the camaraderie and chemistry that now exists on the team.
“We already have a good relationship — especially when we’re on the field,” Rodriguez said. “We know how to play with each other, and we like to play with each other. That makes it more fun for us. And it takes the nerves off when you’re playing the game with people you like to play with.”
Adds Flores, “last year we had our ups-and-downs. But this year we’re more stable. Some girls who didn’t hit last year are now able to hit. We’re more consistent.”
Should the Warriors defeat Verdugo Hills in the first round, there is a potential matchup with Roosevelt High of Los Angeles, the second seed, in the quarterfinals — meaning the road gets rough in a hurry. But Diaz believes his team is prepared. The six losses have come mainly “against schools bigger than us or in higher divisions. The bigger schools get us ready for the playoffs [because his team faces] better pitching and so forth.”
There are several worthy storylines that could define the 2019 LA City Section softball playoffs, from San Fernando High getting the top seed in the Open Division ahead of Chatsworth and Kennedy, to Birmingham being the top seed in Division I where Chavez, Cleveland, Poly and Sylmar are looming, to Valley Academy of Arts & Sciences and Canoga Park taking their shots in Divisions III and IV.
But Discovery Charter Prep’s trip through the Division II bracket will be equally fascinating to watch — if only because it feels as if, no matter how this season ends, there is still so much of the Warriors’ story yet to tell.