Cougars look to make move in Gabilan

Karissa Smith, Sarah Starks and Gabriella Howard power the Christopher High softball team. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Christopher High softball coach Amanda Tellez believes ace Gabriella Howard has pitched every single game for the Cougars for the last three-plus seasons, which is a remarkable feat and displays Howard’s durability and consistency. 

“She’s pitched every game since her freshman year, and we plan on her doing the same this season,” Tellez said. “Gabriella is very positive and upbeat, and she has a calming presence about her. Her pitching is very effective—I want to say she uses four pitches—and she’s very versatile. We can trust her to throw to any batter in any situation and really change it up. She has all the tools.”

Howard is one of four returning seniors, including Isabella Delgado, Amanda Bombino and Sarah Starks, a UC Davis-signee. A first baseman, Starks possesses a potent bat and came into the first practice in the best shape of her career. 

“She was in good shape last year, but you can tell she worked extra hard in the off-season to prepare for this season,” Tellez said. She stepped it up on her own, her bat is still strong and her skills are still there, if not better.”

Delgado, a left fielder, hits around the six spot and leads by example, Tellez said. Delgado has the potential to be a powerful hitter, and possesses some key intangibles, like hustling on every play and transferring what’s done in practice to the games. 

“She doesn’t speak up a lot, but you can tell by her actions she’s a ballplayer and gets the job done,” Tellez said.

Bombino, a catcher, didn’t play for the Cougars last year and also possesses the ability to hit with power, produce extra-base hits and drive in runs.

“She’ll be a great asset in the lineup as well,” Tellez said. “Her and Gabby are good friends, which helps on the field. They trust each other and Gabby knows you have a good player behind the plate who can take charge of the game.”

The Cougars have some terrific sophomores, including third baseman Bianca Duarte, center fielder Emily Budelli, utility Nina Taylor, and right fielder Ashley Fong. 

“It’s amazing to see how much Ashley has improved since last year,” Tellez said. “She’s pretty quiet, but you can tell she’s worked very hard to get to this point. I’m excited to see how much more her game develops.”

Christopher also has six freshmen on the roster, a surefire sign that the program reloads instead of rebuilds. One of those freshmen, starting shortstop Karissa Smith, possesses plenty of skills and natural ability. 

“Karissa has a great attitude, is quick and plays hard,” Tellez said. “She has skills that I can’t quite describe and put into words.”

Kaylee Smallen starts at second base and does whatever it takes to get the job done. 

“She’s advanced, quick and a scrappy hitter,” Tellez said. “She’s pretty advanced skill-wise and will be a nice contributor to our team.”

Beyond setting goals numbers-wise, Starks has placed a premium on instilling in the younger players an example of what it takes to play at the four-year level. For the freshmen who are seeing Starks for the first time, there is perhaps no better example to learn from. Starks never takes shortcuts and is diligent in everything softball-related, especially when it comes to putting in extra time to improve. 

“I do work outside of practice to really help produce a physical goal, but my main goal is to really inspire the younger girls and get them into working harder, not just in practice but outside of practice,” Starks said. “Get them to upgrade their game to the next level and develop in them an intrinsic motivation to get better.”

Starks has been impressed with several of the underclassmen, with Smith and Smallen standing out as freshmen. 

“Those two girls are strong middle infielders who have been able to step up to the plate really well,” Starks said. “Shortstop and second base are two of the most important roles on the field, and you have to be agile and quick to get to balls and have a wider range of motion. They’ve been doing really well, and I love playing with them. Even though I’m not a middle infielder, I do see with their work ethic a little bit of myself in them when I was their age. They’re both skilled and have a lot of potential, and I can see them ending up playing in college in the future.”

The Cougars entered Tuesday’s game against Gilroy at 1-3-1, having just picked up their first win of the season, a 17-0 drubbing of Evergreen Valley. Starks knows the team is still getting familiar with each other and developing the chemistry needed to play to its potential. 

“There is still a lot of progress that needs to be made, but that was a good first step,” she said. “The nice thing is we’re willing to work, put up a fight and compete to get ourselves to a place we want to be.”

Emma Horn, Mikayla Verni, Emily Baumgartner, Hannah Smith and Isabella Suarez all have the potential to make an impact, whether it’s Verni catching, Horn and Suarez utilizing their speed and Baumgartner and Verni providing a no-fear attitude. 

“Emily is as tough as nails and gets right in there with the older girls and gives them a run for their money,” Tellez said. “That’s what you want to see out of your freshmen.”

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