The Carlmont High softball program has been a perennial power in the Peninsula Athletic League throughout legendary coach Jim Liggett’s tenure. The veteran skipper, who just completed his 36th regular season at the helm of the program, owns more victories than anyone in California prep softball history and has his team headed to the playoffs once again.
Liggett’s Scots begin their quest for an eighth Central Coast Section title on Wednesday, when fifth-seeded Carlmont (20-6) hosts No. 12 seed Wilcox (11-16) in a Division I first-round game. A trip to the postseason is hardly uncharted territory for Carlmont, but the club’s 2011 recipe for success has been a tad different than in years passed, with a newfound emphasis on fresh ingredients.
Carlmont finished second in the PAL Bay Division led by a pitching rotation that features three freshmen contributors who accounted for 13 of the squad’s victories. Rebecca Faulkner, Danielle Giuliacci and Missy Pekarek have also tallied over 75 percent of the team’s total innings pitched.
"We knew this group had talent going into their freshman season," Liggett said. "They just had to mature and learn how to pitch a game with smarts, rather than just throw the ball. They're quality kids so they've really worked hard to develop."
Development began early for Faulkner and Giuliacci, who bypassed the junior varsity ranks altogether and started the season as varsity pitchers. Despite their lack of experience, the two hurlers displayed the mental and physical toughness to finish the regular season by each pitching over 60 innings.
"I never thought I'd be throwing this much as a freshman," Giuliacci said. “It took a little while to get used to.”
Veteran pitcher Aurora Stottler, who owns a team-best 1.20 earned run average in 41 innings of work, helped ease the transition. The junior was able to offer advice to her young counterparts, who consistently faced far more seasoned hitters.
"They’ve found out from (Stottler) that you can't have fear on the mound," Liggett said.
Pekarek joined the squad near the end of April and immediately carved a niche for herself in the suddenly-stocked staff. Pitching primarily in a relief role, Pekarek has struck out 11 batters in four appearances.
"Their maturity unfolds each and every game," Liggett said. "They're gaining confidence through experience and that certainly makes you a stronger pitcher."
Giuliacci, who started 11 games without ever allowing more than three runs, echoes her coach’s sentiments.
“The most challenging thing at this level is having to know what to do in every situation,” Giuliacci said. “It’s all about working the count depending on the hitter you’re facing. If you’ve already got two strikes, it’s important to be smart. Once you figure that out, you feel better about your abilities.”
Liggett’s use of his pitching staff is perhaps even more unusual then the emergence of his freshman trio. Three girls—Faulkner, Giuliacci and Stottler—have each logged at least 40 innings on the mound. This statistic is in stark contrast with how softball pitchers are typically taxed, as a primary ‘ace’ will ordinarily appear in almost all of her team’s games.
During Carlmont’s most recent run to the CCS finals in 2007, senior Ashley Chinn logged 152 innings. No other player on the ’07 roster reached 50 innings. Jenna Mott, who led Liggett’s pitching staff in 2008 and 2009, compiled 234 innings between her junior and senior seasons.
Interestingly enough, Wilcox is likely to send freshman Alyssa Parra against the Scots on Wednesday. Unlike Carlmont’s youngsters, Parra has been a workhorse, pitching 103 of the Chargers’ 168 innings played during her first spring in high school.
While Liggett split pitching duties among his rotation in 2011, he doesn’t foresee too much of the same in the future.
"I fully expect one of them to emerge as this team's premier pitcher and take the ball the majority of the time," Liggett said.
Giuliacci admits that the freshman pitchers understand they’re ultimately in a competition, even as they work together to move Carlmont closer to a title.
“Each of us definitely wants to become the team’s main pitcher,” Giuliacci said. “It’s kind-of tough because we’re all good friends. But as each of us becomes better, it can only help the team. ”
Pitching isn’t the only position that has been affected by the Scots’ influx of young talent. Freshman first baseman Gabriella Pons began the season batting sixth in Liggett’s lineup, but has since made herself comfortable in Carlmont’s No. 3 hole. Pons finished the regular season with 26 hits, the team’s third-highest total.
"Gabriella has done an exceptional job overall this season," Liggett said. "Not only does she lead the team in RBIs (21) and extra-base hits (12), she's played outstanding defense at first base all year long."
Pons is adamant that she still has plenty to prove despite the excellent start to her Carlmont career.
“I've learned to stay relaxed on the field, and that makes a big difference,” Pons said. "But I know I need to continue to work on everything. I want to get better at hitting, defense, pretty much all around."
If Carlmont’s freshman class continues to carry a similar attitude, it likely won’t be long before Liggett has the chance to add to his already impressive trophy case.
"I'm confident they can help this team contend for championships over the next few years," Liggett said. "They're going to be a major part of what we do here."