49ers' season struggles become gain
Core covenants: dedication, selflessness, respect and pride.
Those words are on the back of the undershirts of each member on the Yuba College softball team.
As their season came to a close on April 26 at home against Solano College, the 49ers executed those words, leaving a positive outlook for the 2012 season for head coach Stephanie Reynolds.
This year's team had only one returning starter — third baseman Jackie Sizemore. Reynolds welcomed 12 newcomers, all of whom have played on high school and travel softball teams in their careers. Although the 49ers concluded Bay Valley Conference play with 12-0 and 10-0 losses to Solano, what Yuba did prior to its regular season finale is what has Reynolds optimistic — the 49ers won seven of their last nine games.
"I knew this would be a rebuilding year for Yuba College softball," said Reynolds, who completed her 11th season as head coach. "It was also a tough recruiting year. My only true goal was to improve mechanics and work as a team."
It was never really pretty.
The 49ers started their season with an 0—10 record. In its first six games, Yuba College yielded 76 runs while scoring only eight. Its most lopsided loss was to Hartnell College, 22—0. For most of March, Yuba had six of its non-league games canceled because of rainstorms, and finished its season with a 7—27 overall record.
But in the last nine games, excluding the Solano shutouts, the 49ers averaged nearly six runs per game.
"(At the beginning of the season) we did not play with confidence," Reynolds said. "Even though we were better than our record states, we didn't believe we were better. So I had to make them believe they could win."
Pitcher Kayla Kunha added, "Once we started losing games after game, people started getting down on themselves."
But Yuba College swept Marin College in a doubleheader, Reynolds cracked a smile. Finally, a victory.
"They swept us at their place (earlier in the season), and the girls knew we could beat them," Reynolds said. "It truly showed that we had not given up, and we were less accepting of losing. We truly showed heart in the doubleheader."
Shortstop Lyndsey Sizemore has played on many winning high school and travel ball teams. But Sizemore, who is Jackie Sizemore's cousin, looked at the glass half-full.
"Stay positive, try to keep everybody up," said Lyndsey, who led the team with a .360 batting average and a .954 fielding percentage going into the finale. "It's nice that we've accomplished something (winning seven of nine)."
Second baseman Shelby De Leon is also accustomed to winning; she played high school ball at Tokay of Lodi, a team that won a share of the Tri City Athletic League title last spring.
"Work hard, win or lose," said De Leon, who had an .888 fielding percentage going into the finale. "There were some girls who weren't really as focused as others. But we tried to work them."
Some of the positives that contributed toward a strong finish started when Reynolds altered practices.
"We did change our practice plans to focus on hitting, breaking down the skills, teaching a slap hit to shorten our swings and put the ball in play, focused on pitch selection," Reynolds said. "We actually shortened practices in the later part of the season, so they worked hard and went home, rather than worked slow and lazy for the full two hours and got nothing out of it."
During the middle of the season, off the field, the players came together by living by those words on the back of their undershirts.
"I don't really know if we had a turning point, or if we just continued to work hard and started to gradually believe we could win," Reynolds said. "We had what I would have called a turning point when we played Mendocino at Yuba (almost two months ago) and went extra innings in both games. At that point, I told the girls that Mendocino was probably the two-seed team from our conference, and we just competed."
Jackie Sizemore felt the team bonding was certainly an advantage.
"We started hanging out (outside of practices and games), doing team things" said Jackie Sizemore, who was second in batting overall with a .341 percentage, "and I think that's what brought everyone closer, which put everyone into a better mood. They wanted to stay positive."
The camaraderie off the field carried over into giving that effort that helps build a person's character. That builds the young women into being stronger citizens as they get older.
"Everybody has been happy," said Jackie Sizemore. "Practices have been harder, yet, we have been harder on ourselves. Coach told us to work harder, everybody else is telling each other to work harder."
The season ended with all-BVC honors for the cousins; Lyndsey was named to the first team, as she had a .328 batting average in conference play while Jackie had a .417 batting average in conference.
With De Leon, who also pitches, Kunha and most of the first-year players returning, plus a few players who have played for Reynolds within the past two seasons planning to return to the 49ers' diamond next season, Reynolds strongly feels the victories will certainly increase.
Reynolds said, "We still showed a vast improvement between our first match up and this final match up (against Solano), so I was pleased with that."