Young Eagles hope to grow up quickly

Del Oro Softball Outlook
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS ” For every strike a player watches sail by during a bunting drill, Del Oro head softball coach John Peck assigns 10 pushups. The youthful Golden Eagles don't complain. They're learning discipline at the varsity level. We're a lot younger this year, said star Alex Watilo, one of only four returning seniors on the roster. We had five seniors graduate from last year and we had a few girls not come back this year, so we have a really young team. Del Oro finished 19-11-1 overall and third in the Sierra Foothill League last season and advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II quarterfinals, but Peck said it's way too early for this year's Eagles to set playoff aspirations. A lot of them are new to it so they don't even understand that concept, the coach said. The ones that are returning are realistic. They feel like if they keep focused and keep working on it, they understand the skill level is there. The chemistry is good. Our inexperience is our barrier, but the skills are there. You can work with that. If you don't have the skills then it's a real tough battle. Leading the new faces is catcher Aspen Echelmeier, the only freshman on the team. Echelmeier bats cleanup and replaces graduated standout Alyssa Pingree. Pingree is having a breakout season in her first year at Division II Augusta State in Georgia, where she has 11 hits in 16 at-bats and a 1.125 slugging percentage. First-year utility player Cearra Cannon and Savannah Pingree, Alyssa's sister, are Del Oro's two sophomores. Two of the five juniors on the roster moved up from the Eagles' junior varsity squad this season. They're coming along fine, Peck said. They're going to be real good players. It's just a big step from JV to varsity. They're just getting grounded right now. They're showing tons and tons of promise. Team captains Watilo and Christina Pryor bring leadership and experience into the 2008 campaign. Watilo gave the Eagles a major boost at the plate and in the circle last season. She hit .392 to lead the team and was also tops in hits (20), runs (11), triples (3) and on-base percentage (.436). Watilo's pitching was equally impressive. She compiled a 10-3 record and finished the year with a 0.663 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 95 innings. Pryor, a natural at the hot corner, will also see significant opportunities to pitch this season. She's one of the top third basemen around, Peck said. I can't speak highly enough of her. We've got some really tough seniors. I'm really happy with them. They're just nails. While Del Oro's pitching has been solid early, offense is another story. The Eagles lost to defending SFL champion Woodcreek 3-0 in their league opener Thursday to fall to 1-4 overall. Del Oro scored five runs in its only win this season, but has been shut out three times and scored only one run in the other loss. You can be tough defensively, but you've still got to score runs. That's our challenge, Peck said. Our batteries are solid. What we need to focus on is our offense. We need to run the bases and we need to hit the ball. As far as Watilo is concerned, it's all about staying within their element. I just hope that we can come together and be a solid team, not be anything amazing and not try to be more than we are, she said. We just need to be really solid and make the simple plays, get the bunt down, those kinds of things. Preseason was for getting used to each other. During the season obviously we want to win as many games as we can in league. The goal is always to make it to playoffs and see what we can do there, but getting there is key.