While most PCC students and faculty members are enjoying spring break and sleeping in, head coach Monica Tantlinger and the Lancers’ softball team has hit the practice fields forcefully at Jackie Robinson Park in preparation for the second half of conference play.
At 11-9 (2-7 in conference) the Lancers have seen their share of improvements this season and are already three games away from exceeded last season’s win total, with 15 games remaining on the season.
But despite the noticeable improvements, and early season eight-game winning streak, the Lancers have failed to close out decisive conference games and have gone just 3-9 since their early season winning streak.
“One thing that was exciting as a coach is that we are creating opportunities and some of our past losses we weren’t even creating those opportunities to put us in a position to win.” Tantlinger said. “We’re just trying to let the kids know that if you continue to create opportunities and continue to put yourself in a position to drive in runs, eventually it will happen
In only her second season as head coach, Tantlinger has already displayed an ability to get the best out of her team through motivation and repetition, but even with the team’s noticeable improvements Tantlinger and company believes the best is yet to come.
“This year we’re just really trying to focus on little victories and little things and I think the kids have bought into that,” Tantlinger said. “I think our talent level has increased and we’re competing against some good top teams in conference. We’re only headed in the second round [of conference play] we still get to see most teams another two times with the exception of Cerritos so that’s exciting. We still have a lot of time to do some damage. We still have opportunities to win some series’ against conference opponents.”
Although the Lancers are only 2-7 in the South Coast Conference, the team’s improvements and admirable play from sophomore second baseman Justine Zavala and freshman catcher Holly Riker-Sloan has not gone unnoticed. In 67 at bats, Zavala is currently batting an impressive .448 percentage with five homeruns, and leads the team in runs (24) and hits (30). Not to be outdone, Riker-Sloan leads the team with a batting average of .456 in 57 at bats. The freshman slugger also led the team in runs batted in (26) and homeruns (6). Both ladies have combined for 37 runs and 56 total hits.
“Holly has been playing pretty well,” Tantliger said. “I’ve told her before and I think her teammates feel the same way that in a clutch situation or a situation we need to drive in runs, she’s one of our go-to players we want up to bat, obviously because of what she’s able to do, but just because of her overall presence. She’s always looks competitive and collected and that’s something you always want as a coach, she looks like she’s constantly ready to battle.”
“Holly is a good leader,” freshman third baseman Jackie Aguilar said. “She picks up the vibe in the dugout, she’s really talkative and she pumps everyone up if they make a mistake, she’s a big leader for our team.”
Although Riker-Sloan is an important piece to the Lancers future and success, the freshman slugger believes that the balance of leaders and experienced coaching has attributed the team’s improvements.
“When you have somebody who’s a role model on and off the field, and being able to be coached by someone who has so much experience both on and off the field it’s just amazing,” Riker-Sloan said of Tantlinger with a smile. “I think we have lots of leaders on the team. We all do our job and support each other and pump each other up and that’s what a team is about. I think everybody here knows their role and we do it very well and we work together well so I’m excited about the second half of conference.”
“We’re a different team now, then we were last season and even through the first half of conference play,” Tantlinger said. “Unfortunately some of the close games don’t reflect the amount of work the girls have been putting in, but I think we’re on the right track.”
One area the Lancers plan on improving during the second half of conference play is their defense and closing out close games and both Riker-Sloan and Aguilar echoed those sentiments.
“We’re definitely working on our defense but it’s only one inning for us,” Riker-Sloan said. “We compete for six out of seven innings and then we have that one inning so we’re just working on competing for a complete seven innings. Second round of conference, we got this”
Despite a recent fifth inning collapse against El Camino on Tuesday, the Lancers remain optimistic about the remainder of the season.
“Coach just wants us to play like she knows we’re capable of playing,” Aguilar said. “We haven’t been playing at our level and she expects a lot from us.”
“We have to come out swinging and playing defense,” Riker-Sloan added. “We just have to find that rhythm and we got it.”
The Lancers’ host Long Beach City College today at Jackie Robinson Park, the first pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.