The quartet of Cynthia Carrillo, Brooke DeSmet, Sofia Fisher and Briana Gaskill now chatting with a visitor at their school, El Camino Real Charter High, are a collection of seniors that would make any parent proud; well-spoken, focused on goals, gazing steadily into the precipice of adulthood but still happy being kids.
They are also part of an extraordinary grouping of softball players here. The Royals have won the last two City Section Open Division finals that were played in 2019 and 2021. There were no playoffs in 2020 due to the pandemic.
And they are unafraid of the pressure of going for a third title, or the fact that everyone else in City Division I is locked in on the notion of preventing that.
“Some people might think [of such pressure as being] scary,” said Fisher, 17, an outfielder. “But I don’t think any of us are worried about it. We know what we’re capable of. If we have a bad game we can forget it and come out strong for the next one.”
Adds pitcher Brooke DeSmet, 17, “I think with how successful we’ve been, we just put [the pressure] on our backs and take it with us. There isn’t any burden; we all take it all in, soak it all up and want to show people how good we are. We know what we’re doing. We don’t see it as a burden, we see it as a compliment.”
There are 11 seniors on the ECR 17-player roster. They’ve practically grown up together on softball fields, having played the game with or against each other, on local teams in the West Valley since they were small children. By the time they got to high school, they were not only well-grounded in the game, but many had formed deep friendships.
“The team and the environment here are a unique one,” said catcher Cynthia Carrillo, 17. “I feel like everyone brings something into the environment; we do play as a team and figure each other out.”
“We have a really strong bond between everyone,” said shortstop Briana Gaskill, 17. “I kinda expected to see it. We all played together and we all had a feeling we could make the varsity our freshman year. I just felt that everyone knew each other and how we could work as a team.”
The Royals — previously known as the Conquistadors — have long been one of the section’s premiere softball programs. They are tied with San Pedro High for winning the most City titles (17) since the varsity sport began awarding championships in 1974.
That should make it easy to attract talented players. Even so, Jodi Borenstein — who has been with the program for 18 years and became the head coach in 2015 — said she couldn’t remember another group of seniors quite like this one.
“They’re just fun to be around,” Borenstein said. “They get what we’re working towards here. They’re great students. They show up every day and work hard. I’ve been lucky to get great kids that have come through here. [But this is] a neat situation. And I’ve never had these many seniors who grew up together.”
El Camino Real — which entered the week as the City’s top-ranked Division I team — began West Valley League play on Tuesday, March 22, with a victory against Cleveland, improving their overall record to 10-3. The West Valley is considered one of the section’s most competitive leagues and has produced other champions. Any team that does win the league is often considered a favorite to win the championship of whatever division they are placed in.
Of course, it’s still only March, which means much can still happen before the playoffs begin in May.
Borenstein expects that.
“You know the quote: ‘it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,’” the coach said. “You’re not gonna play well the whole season, there will be ups and downs. I think it’s good to have ups and downs because that gives you things to work on and things to improve on. That’s part of a long season; you will have bumps in the road. Of course, you’d rather have them early rather than late.”
And by playoff time, Borenstein also expects the team to have become accustomed to having to take everyone’s best shot of being the team that denies the Royals a third consecutive title.
“That’s what we talk about,” she said. “We know that whomever we play, we’re going to get everyone’s best game. And we have to play our game and continue to do what we talk about doing, and what we practice. It’s the topic of a lot of conversations — staying focused and staying on course. Having a target on our back comes with success, and you have to handle it.”
The players say they’re ready, let’s go.
“I think coming from playing together since we were so little, we developed this chemistry that helps us play very well together,” Fisher said. “We don’t argue; if we have a disagreement we’re still good — we’re still picking each other up.
“I think the chemistry we have has really helped.”