Coming off a season where it shared the Bay League title with Mira Costa, the Palos Verdes softball team is ready to unlock its full potential.
Junior Addy Kostrencich returns to lead the Sea Kings on the mound, and senior Nikki Mabry provides a lethal weapon at the top of the lineup. But fifth-year coach Pat Fresch sees sophomore catcher Rachel Allen as one of PV's not-so-secret weapons.
"Rachel is the total package," Fresch said. "She can hit for power, and hit for average. She can do it all."
Currently 5-4 heading into play Tuesday, PV returns seven of its nine starters from last season, and Fresch reiterated that last season's ending is not something he wants to continue to relive.
"At the end of the day, we need to hit the ball better, and we could have," Fresch said. "It's a whole different game in the later innings when you're down 1 as opposed to 4. But I can't dwell on the past."
Fresch knows that while last season is in the books, the keys to a deeper CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoff run are worked out in March.
"We need to get better in the feel, and play error-free games," Fresch said. "We've gotten better in the last few, but we've made way too many errors and let too many unearned runs score. We're wasting good efforts, and it's hard to chase free runs."
Sharing the pitching load with Kostrencich is sophomore Holly Stebel, while her sister, Brooke, holds down third base. PV also returns senior infielder Amanda Treatch.
Aside from what it brings back, PV is still shuffling its lineup with sophomore infielder Ellen Hubbard returning from injury.
"We've been shuffling the lineup to create a little better constancy, but we need more timely hits," Fresch said. "We've been hitting well in general, but need to drive runners in when they're in position. Most of the girls have hit well at times, but I don't think we've put a game together where the whole lineup has produced."
PV began play in the Torrance National Tournament (TNT) Tuesday against El Segundo, and will kick off league play March 20 at Mira Costa.
Fresch feels that the amid the growing pains, the Sea Kings have what it takes to end his postseason drought. Fresch is winless in three postseason berths.
"I think we have a talented team and if a few things fall into place, anything could happen," Fresch said. "It's my job to get that potential reached."
Peninsula keeps focus
Despite its winless start, 25th-year coach Tim Hall has seen the young Peninsula softball team continuing to grow.
"In the record book, it doesn't look good, but the girls' ability to focus on their growth is huge," Hall said. "After a game, we were sitting around talking about some of the goals the girls had accomplished throughout the game, whether it was hitting or on defense. Their ability to stay focused, to grow, get better and be there for each other has been impressive."
Peninsula's last league title came in 2012, and while Hall knows this group can battle with its Bay League opponents, he knows building their confidence now is key.
"We want to get these girls without the experience some varsity caliber innings," Hall said. "We want to give them a chance to see they belong. They're good kids, and now we just have to build up that experience."
The Panthers return senior outfielders Stacey Surace and Jasmine Nguyen, along with Allie Dukes. Junior Kiara Wong looks to return and vie for some playing time after a knee injury shortened her sophomore year. Hall is also looking for key innings from junior Kelly Beaupre and sophomore JK Bradley.
Hall feels the key to the Panthers success comes from sophomore pitcher Jeanie Benedict.
"Her biggest asset is her competitiveness," Hall said. "I think the team takes the lead from her. She really wants to work and fight, battle and win. She's tough and unflappable."
Despite Peninsula's growing pains, Hall has seen Benedict focus on each batter.
"Despite being an inning here or there that gets out of control, and playing against teams with good hitters, her confidence is growing," Hall said. "She's making good pitchers and I think that's part of the journey for her."
One position creating a logjam for the Panthers is at catcher. Wong is still rehabbing her knee injury, and junior Katie Rusek is also coming off a pair of surgical procedures. But it's Dukes who Hall feels can be a huge asset to Benedict's success.
"All three girls bring different things to the table, and it's about who fits in the best overall look of the team," Hall said. "But when Allie was catching, Jeanie mentioned how much she helps her."
Currently 0-6 after falling to San Pedro 4-2 on Monday, Hall feels the key to staying in the mix for a CIF-SS Division 4 playoff berth is Peninsula's ability to mature over the course of the season, especially during Bay League play.
"We know Mira Costa, Redondo and PV are all improved," Hall said. "The key for us is going to be how well (Benedict) matures and progresses, and how our team plays defense behind her."
Peninsula begins league play March 20 at Leuzinger, and will play at rival PV April 10 before hosting PV April 24 in the regular-season finale.