Cougars aim to be MBL contender

The Christopher High softball team looked solid in a 7-2 win over Oak Grove Monday. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Let it rain. Early in the season, that could be one of the mottos for the Christopher High softball team. The Cougars have played through rain on three occasions this season, the last being in a 7-2 win over Oak Grove in San Jose Monday. Gabriella Howard went the distance, Kylie Huddleston hit a two-run homer and Antonia Martinez had two singles—both on bunts—as Christopher (3-2) came away with an impressive victory.

“It’s actually nice playing in the rain,” said Sarah Starks, a junior third baseman who bats in the No. 3 spot. “It keeps you awake and I love it.”

Even without their best player, Kalena Paredes—the New York University-bound player who could be cleared to play soon—the Cougars have been solid. Paredes, who is recovering from a shoulder ailment, will only add to a Christopher team that has goals of contending for a Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division championship.

“Our whole team is made of up of studs, and we’re looking forward to the postseason and going far,” Starks said. “But we focus more on taking it game by game, and see where that takes us.”

First-year Cougars coach Amanda Tellez, who was an assistant coach two years ago, said the key to the team has been its balance.

“No one really stands out because game by game it’s different players getting the job done,” she said. “And that is why we’re so strong. We have a nice freshmen (crop of players) who I’m really excited about, and we’ve also got good power and speed in the lineup.”

On the latter, there is no doubt. Christopher leadoff hitter Emily Budelli and No. 2 hitter Martinez are downright flash-like on the basepaths. Martinez had two bunt singles, displaying tremendous speed in the process. Budelli also had a bunt single, and she’s dangerous on the basepaths.

The Cougars also possess players who can play multiple positions.

“The good thing about this team is everyone is a utility, so I feel confident putting players anywhere,” Tellez said.

Isabella Delgado, who batted in the No. 9 spot Monday, finished with two singles. Haley Berube made a couple of nifty plays at shortstop, including in the seventh inning when she fielded a sharp grounder to her left, stepped on the second-base bag before throwing to first for a double play.

“Haley can makes those plays whenever it comes her way,” Starks said. “She is a really solid shortstop, and I love having her over there.”

Huddleston hit a towering home run with one out in the top of the fourth inning, giving the Cougars a 3-1 lead they would never relinquish.

“That was something that was building up, and Kylie was due for it,” Tellez said. “It was perfect timing.”

Starks reached base in three of her four plate appearances, on a double, walk and an Oak Grove error. In Starks’ final at-bat, she drove home a run with a sacrifice fly to plate Delgado for the final run of the game. Howard was plenty good enough, allowing eight hits in a performance in which she bent but never broke.

Howard changed speeds and had good movement on her pitches, and pitched her way out of several jams throughout. Whatever happens during a game, the Cougars pick each other up.

“For a lot of us, nothing ever gets us down,” Starks said. “That is what keeps us going. Staying positive is what keeps our head in the game and our confidence level up.”

Christopher has earned some impressive wins in non-league action, including a 6-3 victory over Presentation last Saturday in the Annie Lynch Memorial Circle of Champions Tournament. Even though Presentation didn’t have its ace pitching, the Cougars produced a strong performance as the game was played under a steady rain.

“That was an awesome game to win because they’re a tough team,” Starks said. “It got us all hyped and confident for the season to come.”