Los Gatos High second baseman Clare Torres fields a grounder during their 11-1 win over Wilcox High on April 5. The Wildcats are favored to win their second outright SCVAL De Anza title in the last three years. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

With just over a week left in the regular season, the Los Gatos High softball team is in the pole position to win another outright Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division championship. 

The Wildcats, who have clinched at least a share of the title, are 16-6 overall and 9-0 in league play, two games up on second-place Milpitas High with two games remaining. They play host to Milpitas on Friday at 4pm.

Since the 2018 season, the Wildcats have finished in either first or second place, a picture of consistency in a competitive “A” league. Los Gatos has been relying on a similar formula for success all year: strong pitching combined with solid defense and a potent lineup. Coach Randy Frey says the talent and depth on the team has forced him to think long and hard about lineups and position changes.

“Looking back, I probably have not put out the same exact starting lineup two times all year,” Frey said. “I’ve got 15 girls that can probably start for a CCS (Central Coast Section) playoff team. For me, it’s been a challenging year, in a good way, because I have to figure out who to play on a certain day and how to use every one of them to help the team win.”

This year has been unique in that literally everyone on the team has a role and has made a valuable contribution. 

“It could be bringing somebody late in the game for defense, to pinch run, a bat off the bench,” Frey said. “In the majority of our games, I’ve used everybody to do something. That’s a real bonus to be able to do that.”

Freshman Ava Norquist has been downright sensational this season, having pitched 98 of the team’s 125 innings played entering the week. Norquist is 13-3 with a 1.71 ERA and 117 strikeouts, including 10 K’s in a 2-1 league win over Homestead High on April 26. 

Norquist allowed just two hits and zero earned runs in the contest, while her older sister Annika drove in both of the team’s runs with a double.

Two days prior, in a 4-2 win over Mountain View, Frey marveled at the sisters’ ability to help each other in crucial situations. 

Mountain View had just taken a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second inning when Annika—the team’s starting catcher—and Ava started talking things over. 

“Ava started mixing her pitches up a little more after that and kept them off-balance,” Frey said. “She did a fabulous job the rest of the game.”

But it’s Ava Norquist’s bat—and not her pitching—that has surprised Frey the most. 

“The great thing with Ava is, I knew about her pitching ability coming in, but I had no idea she was such a good hitter,” Frey said. “The hitting has been a huge bonus. She’s been batting fourth for us pretty much the whole season and has a high batting average, lots of RBIs and doesn’t strike out much.”

Before the season started, Frey assumed he was going to have a DP—designated player—hit for Norquist in the lineup. 

“But in our first intrasquad scrimmage, she hit a home run and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I guess I’ll have to look for somebody else to hit for to get a designated player in there,’” he said. 

The Norquist sisters have 16 RBIs apiece, tied for second on the team behind Tucker’s 20. Ava Norquist has been backed by an infield that Frey says “is the best I’ve ever had here at Los Gatos,” including shortstop Tucker, second baseman Clare Torres, first baseman Lily Young, and third basemen Robyn Young and Addie Sorto. 

Los Gatos has turned several 4-6-3 double plays this season, a testament to the infield’s defensive prowess. 

“The girls know how to play,” Frey said. “Addie and Robyn are both very sound defensively and heads-up ballplayers. Grace is a very slick infielder and Clare is very polished. She’s got great range, especially to her left, to go with a strong arm.”

Frey highlighted a play that Tucker made to end the Mountain View game. The Spartans’ No. 9 hitter stroked a ball in the hole just out of the reach of Sorto. Tucker fielded the ball on a backhand and rifled the ball to first base to clinch the victory with Mountain View’s leadoff hitter on deck. 

“Just a big-time play,” Frey said.

Junior outfielder Ria Sharma has emerged as the team’s leadoff hitter, filling a void that lasted several weeks into the season. 

“I struggled for a long time trying to find a leadoff hitter,” Frey said. “I tried several different people there and remember commenting to my assistant coaches that we couldn’t seem to score in the first inning. I moved Ria to leadoff and she’s been doing a great job. She draws a lot of walks and we’ve been scoring runs in the first inning, so that’s a good thing.”

Neither Sharma nor Tessa Lilienstein were starters at the beginning of the season, but both have become key cogs in the lineup. Lilienstein, a sophomore outfielder, is hitting .462.  

Senior left fielder Alexa Musser has been solid as expected as the team’s No. 2 hitter. Frey credited sophomore right fielder Olivia Sickels for persevering through an up and down season, pointing to a play she made in the fifth inning against Mountain View. 

“They had a little bit of a rally going and their No. 5 batter hits a hard ground ball to the right side,” Frey said. “I was ready to mark it as an E3 (error by the first baseman) on the tracking sheet. Next thing you know, Olivia scoops it up and guns the player out at first base. Another game-saving play right there.”

If the Wildcats win the De Anza outright as expected, they would be slotted in the CCS Open Division playoffs. A win in the opening round there would vault them into the CIF NorCal tournament for the first time in program history. 

“Winning the league championship is our first goal, and then to get to NorCals,” Frey said. “Hopefully, someday we’ll be strong enough where we can compete for an Open championship.”

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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