By Michael Bower
Strong pitching can take a team a long way on the softball field, and all three local teams got it again this year.
The Broncos return eight starters from last year’s CIF San Diego Section Division II runner-up team, including Notre Dame-bound hurler Sara White.
Poway returns both of its aces in the circle and Villanova-bound slugger Chase Snell from last year’s squad, which fell one win short of reaching the Division I section championship game.
Del Norte returns its star pitcher Dana Cruse and a handful of strong hitters from its Valley League title team.
The Titans and Broncos are expected to be among the top teams once again in the Palomar League, while Del Norte should battle it out with Ramona for the Valley League crown.
Here is a closer look at the local teams:
Summer Downs, 4th year
22-10-1, went 3-2 in Division II playoffs ( fell to Bonita Vista in championship game)
P, Sara White, Jr.; OF/Util., Tiana Miller, Jr.; 1B, Danielle Knoetze, Sr.; 3B, Kellie Nagle, Sr.; Inf., Skylee James, So.; Inf., Tori McIntyre, Sr.; Inf., Ashley Moore, So.; OF, Erin Mario, Jr.
The Broncos return eight starters, including Notre Dame-bound White in the circle.
Rancho Bernardo came up just short in the Division II championship game and have the experience and talent to reach the title game again and compete for a Palomar League crown.
“The kids and the coaches have our goals set high this year,” Downs said. “We want to get back to where we were last year and obviously have a different result.”
White, who will be in her third year as the starter on the mound, should get plenty of offensive support with Miller, Knoetze, James, and Nagle all back for another season. Mario is also back after missing last season with a torn ACL.
The Broncos showed just how much offense they can produce in the playoffs last year, scoring 25 runs in only five postseason games.
“I feel like our hitting is going to provide us a lot of offense,” Downs said. “We have a lot of bats back that have seen all these pitchers that are back.”
Downs was referring specifically to Palomar League pitching, where nearly every team is returning its starting pitcher from a year ago.
The Broncos will be in the hunt for their first league title and section crown since 2009.
Jim Bennet, 11th year
18-12, went 2-2 in Division I playoffs
Inf., Chase Snell, Sr.; P/OF, Alayna Brenman, Sr.; Inf./C, Catherine Seitz, Soph.; OF, Arianna Marsh, Soph.; P, Kourtney Shaw, Soph.; P, Brianna Parkes, Soph.; CF, Daniel White, Sr.; OF/Inf., Jillian Zamora, Soph.
The Titans return both of their power arms, which led them to within a win of the Division I section title game.
Shaw and Parkes will carry most of the load in the circle once again, while Villanova-bound Snell will lead the offensive attack.
White, who will be taking over for Kristen Shiotani in center field, and Seitz should also provide some pop in the lineup.
Poway’s success will likely come down to its offensive production.
“We will pitch well and play good defense and we will see how our hitting comes around with the younger kids,” Bennet said. “If we can put some runs on the board, we can be pretty good.”
The Titans are among the contenders in the always-brutal Palomar League. Defending champion Torrey Pines returns its star pitcher as does Mt. Carmel and Rancho Bernardo.
“It is going to be a tough league again,” Bennet said. “It always is, but it should be fun.”
Steve Kuptz, 4th year
26-6-1, Valley League champions. Went 2-2 in Division III playoffs
P, Dana Cruse, Sr.; 1B, Kaitlin Manuel, Sr.; Inf., Monica Shifflet, Sr.; OF/P, Natalie Shifflet, Sr.; C, Michaela Schwartz, Sr.; CF, Bryn Burrows, So.; P, Jasleen Ghumman, Sr.; Util., Haley Cruse, F.; 3B, Rachelle Joseph, Sr.
The Nighthawks are strong again, but probably will not have another 26-win season due to the upgrade in opponents on their schedule.
Ramona and Oceanside enter the Valley League this season and both are threats to win the league crown. Ramona is considered the pre-season favorite.
“We are now playing big-girl softball,” Kuptz said. “If we stay healthy, I think we can compete.”
Cruse, who was out with a foot injury most of last year, will be back in the circle as the ace. Manuel, who is verbally committed to the University of Pittsburgh, is back after missing all of last season with an injury.
But the Nighthawks will be without the big bat of Molly Campbell, who tore her ACL over the summer.
Del Norte will be leaning on Burrows, Cruse, Manuel and the Shifflett's at the plate.
“I think offensively we will be fine,” Kuptz said. “That has always been one of our strengths and I expect it to be again this year.”