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Bishop’s Knights softball team is primed for a playoff run

With just slightly more than a month left in the high school softball season, it has become crunch time for teams like The Bishop’s School. The Knights were scheduled to open Coastal League South play April 20 with a road game at Horizon Christian, and will play six of their final 10 games of the 2006 season against league teams.

Having posted a 4-3 record in nonleague games, the Knights’ success in league play will be critical to their chances of making the CIF-San Diego Section playoffs, where only the league’s top teams advance.

“So far, we’re doing a good job, and the girls are starting to gel a bit,” second-year Bishop’s Coach Thomas Abeyta said. “We haven’t played too many tough teams and beat them yet, but we did get in some good games in the La Jolla Country Day tournament that were close games.”

Last season, the Knights pieced together a 14-8 season record and a 4-2 mark in league games. They opened play in the Coastal League South by splitting their first four games, but won their last two league contests to finish in a three-way tie for first place along with La Jolla Country Day and Francis Parker.

Since they had beat Francis Parker but lost to Country Day, they were the league’s second-place team as far as seeding purposes for the playoffs. The Knights won their first-round playoff game in the CIF-SDS Division IV bracket, beating Holtville at home, 13-9. They exited in the second round, though, falling to Imperial, 10-0, in a road game shortened to six innings by the 10-run mercy rule. Imperial went on to win the Division IV bracket championship.

This year’s regular season ends May 17, with the playoffs scheduled to begin May 20. A week later, on May 27, teams will play for the section championships in their brackets, and Bishop’s would like nothing better than to be playing that late in the month of May.

The Knights are hoping to advance even deeper into the playoffs than they did last season, and that goal starts with this week’s beginning of the league portion of their schedule.

Bishop’s has a strong contingent of players who played on that playoff team of last year. The group is led by third baseman Dominique Salerno, who led the team last season with a .406 batting average.

As far as run production, the Knights have leaned on traditional power positions for most of their numbers. Senior catcher Kelly Barrett and senior first baseman Martha Smith are both coming off years in which they drove in 19 runs. Outfielder Michelle Brunker was the team’s leader last year with three home runs.

Smith has been the Knights’ offensive leader so far this season. Abeyta said she and Barrett have also provided a key element of senior leadership on a team that has just recently started to come together as a unit.

Of course, pitching is often the key to a team’s success in softball, especially at the high school level, and the Knights are solid in that area as well. One of their top arms from last year’s playoff squad is back in the circle, as sophomore Laurel Casey heads the pitching staff. During the 2005 softball season, she put together a perfect 8-0 record with a 3.19 ERA.

In 68 innings pitched, she also baffled opposing batters, striking out 55 hitters and walking only 40.

And Abeyta and the Knights got a welcome surprise this spring with the addition of freshman pitcher Natalie Camarda. The youngster has quickly developed into the team’s pitching ace.

“We have three freshmen on our team this year, and she’s doing a heck of a job for us,” Abeyta said.

Now that the league portion of the Knights’ schedule has started, the pressure is clearly on for the rest of the season. With just six league contests, it’s almost as if every game from here on out carries a playoff intensity.

It’s an atmosphere that Abeyta enjoys.

“We’re looking forward to getting into our league season,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get together as a team throughout the pre-league games, and these next two weeks especially will be tough for us.”

Abyeta knows that Francis Parker, which started the non-league part of its schedule a perfect 10-0, will be the team to beat, but he also isn’t looking past La Jolla Country Day or Horizon Christian.

And he thinks that if everything comes together like planned, this team could again be primed for a playoff run in the next month.

“Our hitting is not quite where we want it to be yet, but our defense is definitely there,” Abeyta said. “And our pitching has been excellent.”