There is a classic Seinfeld episode where Jerry feels like he is in “Bizarro World” – a world of his idol, Superman, where everything is the opposite of what it should be.
Listening to the two softball coaches of the city’s two high schools speak about their teams Wednesday night, a part of me felt like I had stepped into this world – mostly because it was Burroughs coach Doug Nicol who was the calm one.
Nicol is a passionate and competitive as ever, but he hardly resembles the coach who patrolled the hardwood of the Burroughs gymnasium almost a decade ago. In his second season as the head softball coach, he speaks confidently and passionately about his squad but with a softer side that was lacking when he was the school’s head girls’ basketball coach.
“We’ve won the league the last two years,” he said. “We return six of nine starters and we have a lot of talent so I would think we would be considered one of the favorites but ultimately we have to play the games.”
Then there is Burbank’s Nicole Drabecki, so excited and
animated when speaking about her team’s chances one has to wonder if she’s already ordered the Pacific League Championship patches. She speaks so confidently that one begins to think her opinions are already facts.
“I will be disappointed if we do not win the Pacific League,” Drabecki says. “No one has the talent we have.”
She adds, “I will be disappointed if we don’t make the semifinals of CIF and frankly I don’t see us losing more than four games — I am that confident in this team.”
The best news for softball fans in the city of Burbank – and what is not part of the “Bizzaro World” analogy – is that the two teams should battle it out as the top two teams in the Pacific League this season.
The Indians have won back-to-back league championships and are coming off a 19-8 season in
Nicol’s first year as their head coach. They return two-time All-League catcher Shannon Trujillo, who Nicol calls “arguably the best hitter in the league.”
Trujillo’s numbers certainly support that claim as she batted .430 a season ago — 33 for 86 – with eight home runs, seven doubles, 34 RBI, 33 runs scored and a .907 slugging percentage.
Haley Shulmann, another returning All-League selection is also back. She hit .471 last season and was also a star pitcher with a 7-5 record and 1.46 ERA in 54 innings.
Not returning in the circle this season is Heather Haynes who was an All-CIF selection last year. Some close to the team say the talented senior simply wasn’t dedicated enough to the sport or the team to commit as a senior.
“She had other priorities,” Nicol said, wanting to focus on who was back rather than who was not.
Seniors Caitlin Loera and Allie Grimaldo are back to anchor the middle of the infield and the corners seem set between freshman standout Michelle Santiago at third base and sophomore Aimee Rodriguez at first.
Sophomore Sidney Ortega will patrol a talented outfield along with senior Victoria Santos and junior Brice Edrington.
“The girls work hard and they have talent,” Nicol said. “At the same time we know there is a bull’s eye on our backs having won the league the last two years. Burbank got a great pitcher and they have a lot of talent and CV (Crescenta Valley) will be tough too.”
Freshman standout Caitlyn Brooks is as highly regarded pitching prospect as the league as seen in
awhile. Drabecki says she has already heard high praise of college coaches about the freshman.
“They can’t recruit her yet, but they know about her and they like her,” Drabecki said.
Crystal Diaz, a junior, will also pitch for the Bulldogs (12-15 a season ago).
Burbank returns Katie Hooper who had the best offensive numbers in the league last season. Hooper hit .539 and had 48 hits in 27 games. She also hit nine home runs, seven triples and drove in 45 runs. The junior gave-up soccer to focus on her development as a softball prospect.
Senior second basemen Nelani Hernandez and junior shortstop Liano Do are other key pieces for Burbank this season.
In addition Burbank has three freshmen in addition to Brooks on the varsity roster and at least three will be full-time starters. Two of those freshmen, Jazmin Orozco and Bridgette Pisa will rotate at catcher. Lily Winn, the fourth freshmen, will play third base.
Drabecki believes a winter schedule against top teams like Oaks Christian and Upland will only help build confidence and consistency in a young team led by a talented junior and freshmen classes.
What could stop the Bulldogs? Only themselves, Drabecki says.
“Frankly, kids from the city of Burbank often choke,” she says. “They aren’t use to top competition because they don’t typically have a lot of experience in competitive youth leagues or travel ball.
But I believe in this team, I am confident that they are going to go out and do what they are capable of doing,” Drabecki says.