Bearcat Softball Sets Sights On Second Consecutive Mountain League Title
PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles Bearcats softball team finished last season as Mountain League champions, an honor they shared with the Greyhounds as both teams went 10-2 in league play, with a 19-8 overall record and just one win away from a shot at a CIF title. This season, the buzz is back in Bearcatville as the ‘Crimson Cats enter this year as not only a favorite in the Mountain League but perhaps in all of the Central Section as they enter this week as the No. 5 ranked team according to Maxpreps.com.
“I think we are in contention for the league championship again,” Paso Robles head coach Billy Tidwell said Friday afternoon. “I lost three seniors that were very valuable and had been in the program for four years, all three of them. They are hard to replace, the best you can hope for is that girls step in and step up.”
The three girls Paso Robles had to replace were all key contributors to the team a year ago and even included the North County Softball Player of the Year Brooke Milder as well Kirra Vargas and Lya Abel, who all three spent their entire careers playing varsity.
When playing in the Mountain League against teams like Arroyo Grande, Templeton and Atascadero it is not about who you lose but who you bring back and this year the Bearcats are in as good a position as any. Paso Robles enters this season with seven seniors on their roster, including their two new team captains, third basemen Sophia Prieto and shortstop Becca Stroud, and their standout pitcher Jaiden Ralston who finished last season with an 18-5 record with 199 strikeouts as only a freshman.
“I was talking to Becca Stroud and Sophia Prieto yesterday and told them, ‘whether you like it or not you have been selected as captains by the other girls on the team and they expect you to lead,’” Tidwell told the Paso Robles Press. “They are more of the lead by example type of leaders not the vocal type of leaders and I told them that they have to find their voice.”
Both Prieto and Stroud have been on the varsity since their freshman seasons as well but will look to learn how to lead as the season progress. While Preito will continue to hold down the hot corner, Stroud has joined her on the left side of the infield for the first time. The senior, who earned was a second-team all league selection last year as a junior, has spent her Bearcats career playing first base but will now need to specialize in fielding ground balls rather than digging low throws out of the dirt.
“It has been really fun,” Stroud said of the role change. “Obviously Brooke Milder was amazing last year. It is a transition going from first base to that, I actually played a lot of second base throughout my life so shortstop is a little different but I am just trying to do the best that I can and backup my pitcher, work hard, get extra reps and just get better.”
One thing that is clear when spending time around the Bearcats team is even though they may be the favorites in the league this season, they do not expect anything to be handed to them and they want to prioritize two things, working hard and team chemistry.
“I think we definitely have a very positive outlook,” Prieto said. “I think we are trying to kind of stay humble and keep working hard during practice and just working on things that we need to work on now. Especially with those girls missing [the seniors from last year] we just need to get that team camaraderie back and that team chemistry is kind of a team focus this year.”
While team chemistry is certainly important, if Ralston continues pitching this year as she did in her freshman season, opposing teams will have nightmares the nights before and after playing the Bearcats.
Last season Ralson racked up an 18-5 record while supporting a 1.15 earned run average and earned first-team all league honors. She struck out 10 or more batters 10 times and dazzled when the pressure was highest throwing her only no hitter of the season in a must-win game against the Greyhounds which opened the door to a share of the league title.
Softball is Ralston’s only sport and she spent the summer and the fall working on her craft playing travel ball and showing hitters all across the country what Bearcat pitching looks like. After one year high school, the sophomore now has something to build on and is taking the knowledge she learned last year into this season.
“I learned that I just have to take control and know who I am and do the best that I can do for my team,” Ralston said. “I also know all of the hitters now so now I can hopefully work a little bit off my knowledge. But I need to work as hard as I can for my team if they are going to work as hard as they can behind me.”
The Bearcats hosted a double header over the weekend against Hanford and split the games. Paso Robles won the first game 2-1 and dropped the second 6-2 which gave them only their second loss of the season at 4-2.
The Bearcats will now have the week off with their next game coming at home on March 17 when they invite El Diamante to the Central Coast.