OTHELLO — Rudy Ochoa II stood in the batter’s box systemically pounding ground balls to the infield, each position making the predetermined play. Then he lifted fly balls to the outfield, watching outfielders’ throws to various bases.
He stopped and looked over at his father Rudy Ochoa Sr. standing near the third base dugout.
“Bunts,” the elder said.
And so it went for the defending 2A state champion Othello softball team on a day where the light was rapidly fading, as was the temperature.
“Of course we’re proud of what we did last year, but every team has its own personality,” Rudy Sr. said. “It’s tradition, and every year we go into the season thinking we’re going to take state. A lot of these kids weren’t on varsity last year, so now they’re ready to show what they can do.”
Softballers set lofty goals at Othello, and it’s not as presumptuous as it might sound. They expect to make a deep run into the 2A state tournament.
The Huskies beat Fife 3-1 in the 2016 championship game. The year before they finished third. In 2014, they played for a state championship and finished as the runner-up, and they placed third in 2013.
They have those same lofty goals again this year. It’s a different year, different team, but the same goal.
The Huskies go into the 2017 season with 10 players from a year ago. Mariah Deleon (catcher), Cayleen Garza (designated hitter), Dominique Martinez (pitcher), Audisey Sauceda (third base) and Malaya Sauceda (shortstop) are returning starters for a team that lost six seniors to graduation and five starters.
“One year we lost eight girls and came back and placed second in state, so anything is possible,” Ochoa said with a smile. “I’m not saying we’re going to do that this year, but we play with pride and we work hard.”
Martinez will set the tone in the circle and has the ability to take over in a league with quality hitters.
“We’re counting on Dominique a lot this year, but she has broad shoulders and she can do it,” Ochoa said. “She has a fastball, drop, changeup and other pitches in between. She has location, which is more important than anything.”
The Huskies have the starting battery back with Deleon behind the plate, which helps quite a bit. They are also experienced in the middle infield. They moved Alaya Sauceda over from second base to shortstop this year. Janissa Garza will take over the second base chores. The outfield will pretty much be all new and is still being sorted out.
“As far as hitting goes, we have a little bit of power and contact hitters. I’ve always done quite a bit of bunting,” Ochoa said. “We’re pretty fundamentally sound. A lot of them played summer ball. They haven’t played that much together, so that’s probably the main thing.”
The Huskies have pretty good team speed. Rilee Heist, Jazlyhn Verduzco, Martinez and Nikki Velazquez all have the quickness to turn things around on the base paths.
The Huskies opened the season with their own Jamboree on Tuesday. They start regular Central Washington Athletic Conference play at Ephrata on March 18.
The CWAC is sound again this year with Selah, Ellensburg, East Valley and Othello the contenders.