Cougars start out season with a 3-0 record

Taft College softball coach Stefanie Walsh attributes her team's 3-0 start to a good blend of returning players and rookies.

"This is the first time since I've been here to have so many sophomore leaders who know the system," she said. "It's been a pleasure to watch this group and the blending of the two classes. It brings so much to the table."

The Cougars will try to keep their streak going Saturday when they play a doubleheader at San Jose City College. They'll play Modesto JC at noon and then the host school at 2 p.m.

"It's really been a good year so far," Walsh said. "It's been really cool to watch the sophomores teach the freshmen."

Her optimistic outlook is tempered a bit with the loss of sophomore right fielder Mari Hernandez, who will miss the season because of surgery on an injured shoulder.

"That took a big bat out of the middle of our lineup," she said.

Anchoring the pitching staff is returnee Jessica Neher, a Taft High product, who has two of the Cougars' three wins.

"She came back stronger this year," Walsh said.

Neher struggled in her freshman year with a 4-14 record and 6.36 earned run average.

Also expected to see action in the circle are sophomore Peyton Buen and newcomer Cheyenne Emerson. Both also will see action as infielders. Buen hit .281 last year.

"We're lucky to have three legitimate pitchers," Walsh said. "Cheyenne will help out on the mound quite a bit."

With depth in the circle, Walsh also has interchangeable catchers.

"We have two strong catchers."

They are Yarelli Delgado (Wasco High), who transferred to TC after playing a season at Reedley College, and freshman Kelina Nakai (Hale'iwa, HI).

"Both have strong arms and great blocking ability," Walsh said. "It's great to have interchangeable catchers, especially because of the number of doubleheaders we have to play. We've never had that before."

She thinks her team will be stronger with the bat this year.

"Our hitting up and down the lineup is solid," she said.

Third baseman Brooklyn Amador hit .345 last year with 11 doubles, 3 triples and 5 homers.

Shortstop Ashley McKeown hit .343 last season and led the team in doubles with 13. She also has plays great defense.

Freshman Tuiai Elisara will get the start at second base and is a solid hitter.

Chelsea Eli-Kido, who hit .331 last year, will start in center field, Andrea Bouschet (.220) will return in right field and Stephanie Keith (.270) will patrol left.

When she's not pitching Buen will play first base.

Neher can swing the bat too. She hit .304 last season.

Other freshmen include second baseman Jill Del Villar and right-fielder Venise Elisara.

Hernandez will red-shirt while she rehabs her shoulder.

Another red-shirt is freshman utility player Clarissa Rivas from Taft High.

Walsh likes another aspect of her team.

"They get the job done in the classroom too. Our overall team GPA (grade point average) is 3.07," she said. "Stephanie Keith had a 4.0 in the fall semester."