When Trans Valley League softball play begins next Wednesday, Hilmar and Hughson High teams will be in the battle for a top spot.
“We lost two key players, pitcher and catcher, hard to replace, so we are looking to compete for a playoff spot in the TVL and hopefully we can improve enough where we can compete for a championship,” said Hilmar head coach Paul Willis. “But right now, we are trying to figure out some key holes and decisions.”
“We are going to be very strong in league, despite our pre-league record…We had multiple starters in basketball and they got back on Friday and played a game immediately, a double header,” said Hughson head coach Paul Gose.
Ripon took the title last year with an 11-1 record in the TVL, while Escalon went 10-2 and finished in second. Hilmar finished in third place with an 8-4 record and Hughson followed up in fourth at 6-6.
Both Hilmar and Hughson earned spots in the postseason along with Escalon and Ripon, but they are chasing more this season.
Hilmar lost both their ace pitcher and future Division-I catcher and have been hit by the injury bug this season already, while Hughson has had a late start with the girls basketball team reaching the second round of the state tournament and semifinal in the section playoffs.
Hughson has over half a dozen games played heading into Tuesday, while they have won just two and dropped four, their full squad came together on Friday.
“This group, these seniors have not seen a league title and they are hungry to win,” said Gose. “They play great and you see it with six games in that girls are stepping up, and we have a ‘your team,’ mentality.”
Following a team with no seniors, Hughson has five on the squad this year.
Some of those seniors include college bound Mary Jane Lopez (Stanislaus), Kali Gose (Iowa State) and Katie Thornsberry (Stanislaus). Vanessa Langan has had offers as well, but is not expecting to continue to play collegiately.
Sophomore pitcher Liz Garza is expected to play heavy innings for the Huskies.
“Liz Garza is going to be one of our two pitchers and she is money,” said Gose. “We are on the ‘feel good tour,’ and the girls are embracing that. This group is quite loose and seems to know how to have fun and enjoy themselves.”
The Yellowjackets reached the second round of the Division-V Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs last season after they went 18-11, but there is no doubt that Willis has his team hungrier.
“Right now, we are going game to game, trying to give the girls an opportunity to compete for a spot. Some girls have done really well and are looking for the leadership (like) Madison Steelman, returning all-league selection player,” said Willis. “With her leadership she should help us in the outfield and all-league returner Gen Fontes as well, she could help us in the infield, but she just got cleared after getting hurt playing soccer, so looking to get the next couple games on track as well.”
Other key returners for the Yellowjackets include Kaydence Alvey and sophomore Jenna Gomes, who Willis is expecting big innings from.
Competing in league and earning a top four spot for a chance at playoffs will be a tall task, but possible.
Hughson will kick off TVL play at home against Ripon at 4 p.m. next Wednesday.
Hilmar will open up league play in the TVL on the road at Riverbank High at 4 p.m. next Wednesday.