Rick’s Sports Corner: Burroughs’ Phoebe Spangler, Record-Setting Senior Season

The four-year softball player will attend UC Santa Barbara and will not play on the women's team but rather concentrate on her studies.

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By Rick Assad

A persuasive case can be made that Phoebe Spangler had the greatest single season offensively in Burroughs High softball history.

Her numbers were astronomical and her glovework at third base was impeccable.

This past campaign, Spangler, a senior, batted a whopping .689, smacked a school-record 11 home runs, had a team-best .721 on-base percentage, led the team with a 1.405 slugging percentage, was tied for first with 32 runs scored, placed first with 36 runs batted in, led the team with 51 hits and for good measure, stole seven bases, third best on the team.

All of this led Spangler to being named the Pacific League Player of the Year and being tabbed to the All-CIF Division III team.

That’s quite a resume, but how did all of this happen and was it something anyone could have predicted? Spangler had an idea that it would.

“I think the reason for my success was all mental. The previous three years I had put a lot of pressure on myself, wanting to be successful but falling short,” said the left-handed batter who will attend UC Santa Barbara with an undecided major but is leaning toward marine biology or statistics, but will not play on the women’s softball team. “This year I decided to go back to why I started playing softball and really enjoyed my last year playing. My approach was to have fun and enjoy this last year.”

Spangler, who batted .475 across four varsity seasons, also slapped eight doubles for third best on the team and delivered a team-best six triples her senior season, explained what she was trying to accomplish in the batter’s box.

The Bears’ third baseman produced eye-popping offensive numbers and was rewarded by being named Pacific League Player of the Year. (Photo by Austin Gebhardt)

“At the plate, I went back to basics. See the ball, hit the ball, and I never tried to do anything crazy,” she said. “Some at-bats, I could predict what the pitcher would throw at me, and use that to my advantage, which also led to my success. My best at-bats would be the ones where I’m just trying to connect with the ball.”

Longtime Burroughs coach Doug Nicol isn’t surprised by what Spangler accomplished this campaign, helping the Bears carve out a 21-7 overall mark, a 6-1 record in the league and a CIF Southern Section first-round appearance, losing to Woodbridge 4-3.

“Phoebe is an exceptional person. She is hard-working, extremely coachable, considerate and mature above her years. It was a joy to coach her for four years,” he said. “She is exactly what we hope for in our program in that she is a strong, independent young lady who embraced our culture and always tried to be the best version of herself each and every day.”

Spangler, who had a 4.0 grade-point average over four years, was an active seal bearer for the CSF (California Scholarship Federation), was awarded the Presidential Award and the Marine Corps High School Distinguished Athlete Award, was smart enough to know that no player gets a hit in every at-bat.

“I was successful at softball because it allowed me to grow with the game. Softball is a game of failure, and it teaches how to combat adversity,” she noted. “I loved the game of softball and everything it stands for. It’s exciting, nail biting, and being in a position where the team is bigger than yourself is rewarding.”

Even with spectacular offensive numbers, the Bears didn’t reach the Division III title game, but this didn’t change Spangler’s outlook on what the team accomplished.

“This season was a huge success in my eyes. Even though we weren’t Pacific League champions and didn’t make a long run in CIF, we played great competition and were successful against them most of the time,” she said. “I will remember this season for the rest of my life because I had so much fun playing with my best friends. The softball season always starts as a climb, and we want to peak at the right time. I believe we did peak at the right time this season and exploded against top competition. This was one of the best teams in Burroughs history.”

Phoebe Spangler will attend UC Santa Barbara with an undecided major but is leaning toward marine biology or statistics. (Photo courtesy Phoebe Spangler)

Playing against the stronger teams in the league saw Spangler, who was the President of the Environmental Cleanup Club, play at her peak.

“One game that stands out was when we played Crescenta Valley. There were many highs and lows to that game, but ultimately, we came out on top,” she said. “My bat wasn’t that hot that game, and I was a little frustrated with myself, but in the bottom of the sixth inning I made a key diving double play at third base that aided my team to victory.”

Spangler recalled another important league encounter.

“Another one that stands out was our last game against Burbank High,” she noted. “Though we fell short the first time we played them, the second game was electric. I played a great game to finalize my Pacific League career, including key plays at third base, two doubles, and a huge home run. It definitely is rewarding knowing I helped my team in key games, and I will remember this season forever.”

Being the talk of the division is something Spangler didn’t expect before the season.

“Getting this much attention was definitely abnormal and not something I was used to. I didn’t really notice how much attention I was getting until the very end,” she pointed out. “It was kind of cool, but I don’t love the spotlight on me, as my whole team was successful this season, but it also led to more attention to our team, so I am grateful for that. I think it was cool that Burroughs softball was becoming more popular this year, and I can’t wait to come back and watch as an alum.”

Not being superstitious helped Spangler on the day of the game.

“On game days, I noticed I performed better when I went about the day like every other day,” she said. “I wouldn’t make it bigger than it was, and I kept things simple. I’m not overly superstitious and didn’t have routines I would do. I just stayed calm and collected.”

Getting an opportunity to play a sport is precious according to Spangler.

Phoebe Spangler received many awards for on the field and off the field excellence. (Photo courtesy Phoebe Spangler)

“I have learned many things from playing softball. I obviously learned about athletics and strength, but I also learned skills like communication, teamwork, leadership and discipline,” she said. “Being on a team and being coached teaches you discipline and how to take constructive criticism, and with these skills, it will leave me with tough skin when I eventually enter the work force.”

Spangler continued: “But more than all of these skills, I once entered the game of softball as a little girl, excited for what’s to come, and I am leaving the game as a strong, independent woman,” she said. “My coach [Nicol], preached through my four years here that yes, winning is nice, but the only thing he really cares about is us girls leaving the program as strong, independent women, and I really do feel that I am a strong, independent woman. I don’t think this would have been possible without the game of softball. I am truly grateful for my experience in the JBHS softball program.”

As a freshman, Spangler was wide eyed and eager. Today she has matured and looks back on that wonderful ride.

“I will remember my softball career as triumphant. I will look back at how I started, a timid, nervous freshman, the only freshman on varsity, to where I finished: Pacific League Player of the Year,” she said. “But most of all, I will remember the journey and the girls who were by my side, all the way to the end.”

Spangler has one regret, though, reflecting on her career.

“The only thing I wish I could change was my approach my first three years. This year, I played the best I’ve ever played, even out of my travel ball years. I wish I didn’t put that much pressure on myself and played to have fun, that’s what I did this year,” she admitted. “I lifted the pressure and just had fun for my last year, and I was hugely successful. I wouldn’t change anything else, though. I learned so much from the John Burroughs softball program. I met so many lifelong friends, and I am so beyond grateful for my time here.”

Still, Spangler amassed incredible numbers her senior season and they’re going to be hard to surpass.

“She put together one of the greatest seasons of any player in the history of our city,” Nicol said. “She broke records and received all sorts of awards. I am so happy she got to experience everything that came with that, but even happier that it didn’t change her.”

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