VILLA PARK, Calif. (BVM) – Before Terry Williams arrived as the Villa Park head softball coach ahead of the 2014-15 season, the Spartans underwent eight consecutive losing seasons. Since then, Villa Park has finished with a winning record in seven of the last eight years, and last summer, the Spartans did something the program hasn’t seen in over 40 years.
Led by then-senior Andreya Flores and Arizona commit Sydney Somerndike, Villa Park went 24-2 before appearing in its first CIF championship since 1979. The Spartans lost a heart-breaking CIF-SS Division 2 title game by way of an Upland walk-off home run from Emily Capobianco, but Williams and his squad felt even in that crushing moment that they’d be back.
“That game hurt, obviously, and we wanted to win, get a ring and all that good stuff, but I think the girls knew that we were kind of a year early,” Williams said. “With the girls that we had coming back, we pretty much returned the whole team outside of Andreya (Flores) in terms of production.
“I think everyone was like ‘OK we’ll make another run at this thing next year.’ I don’t think it was too devastating. But I told the juniors if we don’t win this year, we’re probably not going to win it next year.”
Williams doesn’t believe next season’s version of Villa Park softball can’t be successful, but he recognizes the prime opportunity the Spartans have in front of them this year.
A new influx of talent led by a couple senior transfers in Tiana Poole and Ashley Adams has added even more power-hitting to this lineup. Poole is committed to play softball at Iowa State while Adams will suit up at the next level for Cal State-Fullerton. Bethany Spurr, a Baylor commit who tore her ACL skiing before last season, has also added a new dimension that this team didn’t have a year ago.
But the Spartans go as Somerndike goes.
The future Wildcat is the reigning Gatorade California Softball Player of the Year after going 24-2 with 323 strikeouts in 157 innings last season as a junior. She allowed just 57 hits and 30 walks while compiling a .337 batting average with five home runs, 18 RBIs and a .600 slugging percentage at the plate.
“Sydney was absolutely dominant in both of her performances against us,” Diamond Bar High School head coach Kurt Davies said in a Gatorade press release. “We played our best game of the year against them in the playoffs and struck out 19 times! The game was scoreless until the fifth inning, and we were praying that she’d make a mistake. Obviously, she never flinched.”
Somerndike was named the best softball player in the state of California by MaxPreps back in February and the ace pitcher has lived up to that billing so far this season. She opened up the Michelle Carew Classic on Wednesday with four strikeouts in 1.2 innings pitched while going 1-1 at the plate with a home run, two RBIs, two walks and two runs scored.
Chrys Hildebrand, a former Esperanza High School standout and current pitcher at UC-Riverside, was the best athlete Williams ever coached, he said. But that was until Somerndike arrived.
“I’ve coached a lot of Division I kids but the thing that makes Sydney so unique is her spin is off the charts,” Williams said. “Even when her velocity is down, her ball still spins so she misses so many bats that you can hide so many warts with it.
“Even if a kid gets a hit, it’s very rare for them to piece together multiple hits in a row. As a coach, you just know if you can scratch a couple runs, you’re normally going to be OK with her.”
The Spartans have been able to produce enough offense during their blazing hot 17-2 start to the season and it’s resulted in some national recognition. Villa Park is the second-ranked team in the state of California by MaxPreps, but the rankings don’t mean much to this team.
What does mean a lot to this team is what it was able to accomplish earlier this season at the Cypress Tournament.
“We haven’t beaten Los Alamitos since I’ve been there,” Williams said. “We face them all the time, we’re a smaller school than they are, they’re a more traditional softball power, we always play close games with them and we never beat them.”
The Spartans knocked off Los Alamitos 4-1 in the championship game of the tournament behind a complete game and 10 strikeouts from Somerndike, and three RBIs (including the game-winning hit) from Poole.
“I’m telling you I could see the relief in some of the girls like ‘OK we finally beat Los Al,’” Williams said. “We don’t have a huge roster but we have a lot of depth and I think these girls are just booming in confidence with what we’ve accomplished already.”
There’s still much more than regular season tournaments that this group wants to accomplish, but Williams feels the Spartans have everything they need to finish what they couldn’t last season.
“If we play our game, there’s only a handful of teams that can beat us out there with Sydney in the circle in a one-game standalone,” Williams said. “We’re a tough out; the team that beats us is going to earn it.”