Expectations aren’t entirely new to the Sparks softball program. However, legitimate preseason hope has avoided the Railroaders in recent years.
That is not the case heading into the 2016 season.
Sparks brings back seven starters from last year’s team that missed out on the postseason by four games and has realistic aspirations of qualifying for the dance this springs.
“More so this year than other years,” Sparks coach Frank Avilla said. “I really, really think that we got a good shot this year. I really, really do.”
- 2015 record: 11-18, 10-14
- Playoffs: None
- Key returners: Marisa Coleman, Maddie Franco, Angie Ruiz, Cynthia Barela, Riley Nelson
- Key losses: Sarah Hanson, Jocelyn Vasquez
Leading the list of returners is senior shortstop Marisa Coleman. As a junior, Coleman led the team in nearly every offense category. She led the squad in batting average (.506), home runs (10), RBIs (43), runs (45), hits (43), triples (6) and stolen bases (13) before forgoing her senior basketball season to prepare for softball.
Sparks also brings back senior Maddie Franco, who hit .300 with four home runs last season, junior Angie Ruiz, who hit .362 as a sophomore and junior Cynthia Barela, who hit .344 and scored 36 runs last spring.
“I see our speed as a strength and I also see our bats,” Avilla said. “We have good bats. We’re picking up where we left off last year.”
While the offensive identity already appears in place, inside the circle remains a question mark. Jocelyn Vasquez, who graduated last spring, was the team’s ace the last few years. She was also one of the team’s biggest offensive weapons. Last year, she hit .397 with six home runs and 33 RBIs.
To help fill in for Vasquez’s absence in the circle, sophomore Riley Nelson, Coleman and Franco are all going to be called upon.
“The biggest thing, I don’t really care about their (velocity), as long as they can hit their location,” Avilla said. “They’ve already live pitched (in a scrimmage) and I was pleasantly surprised with what they were delivering to the plate.”
Due to limitations on the number of games teams are permitted to play a season, and due to a 24-game league schedule, Sparks isn’t playing any non-league games before it opens the season with a DI-A North contest at Lowry on Friday, March 25.
Avilla said he would’ve preferred to play a few games before participating in meaningful contests, but he believes it will end up being a positive.
“I would’ve rather we started earlier,” Avilla said. “But I think this year it’s going to benefit us more than it’s going to hurt us.”