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BILL ALKOFER , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Orange Lutheran's softball team is counting a team effort to lead the team to perhaps its best season in school history. Leading the Lancers are In the photo, talented freshman Ciara Briggs gets a lift from teammates, from left, Noelle Hee, Lauren Espalin, Mackenzie Boesel and Maddy Dwyer.

Orange Lutheran revved up about potential breakthrough season

STAFF WRITER

ORANGE – Practice was nearing its conclusion on a recent weekday afternoon at Orange Lutheran, and the sun was beginning to set.

Standing down the first base line, watching and taking mental notes, was longtime Lancers coach Steve Miklos. With each line drive that screamed off the bat of his players, his job was, in some ways, becoming more difficult.

It’s a problem that not many coaches have - too many good players.

“The hard part about it is I have more than nine girls that should bat,” he said. “It’s the best lineup I’ve ever had.”

The Lancers have six starters returning from a team that went 25-4 overall in 2015, the ace that Miklos can trot out to the circle every game if needed, plus the most talented crop of freshmen the school has ever seen. This perfect storm of experience and talent has sent expectations for Orange Lutheran sky high. The Lancers are ranked No. 5 in the state by Calhisports.com.

“On paper, we’re really good,” said Miklos, starting his 19th year as the Lancers coach. “All three areas – pitching, hitting and fielding – are strong.”

But talent, sometimes, only takes teams so far. The Lancers know that after their recent run of losses in the second round and quarterfinals of the playoffs.

“My challenge is how I get them to buy into that idea of team,” Miklos said. “‘How can I be a better teammate?’ Because if they buy in, we’re tough.”

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The Lancers’ list of returning starters includes first-team All-County shortstop Mackenzie Boesel and the Trinity League’s co-pitcher of the year last season, Maddy Dwyer. Boesel (.462 average) and Dwyer (.439) tied for the team lead with eight homers apiece in 2015, and the club has five players back who batted .439 or better last year.

Junior first baseman Noelle Hee (.456) and catcher Lauren Espalin (.500) will join Boesel in the middle of the lineup.

Two of the talented freshmen, Ciara Briggs and Mya Rodriguez, will step into starting roles. They will be asked to set the tone offensively by batting at the top of the lineup.

Briggs, who has committed to LSU, is widely regarded as one of the top players in the class of 2019, and Rodriguez has already impressed Miklos with her play in preseason games.

“I think this year is special,” Hee said, comparing this year’s squad to those in recent seasons. “Like coach Steve says, we have all the right pieces, we just have to figure out how they fit.”

“There’s a lot more experience too,” Dwyer chimed in. “There’s a lot of juniors, sophomores and seniors, obviously, so we’ve all been playing together for awhile now. Having the bigger freshmen class, it gives us an opportunity to work with them a little bit more, and I think they’ve done a really good job of helping the program develop.”

In addition to all of the talent, Orange Lutheran will be playing with a chip on its shoulder over finishing second in league last season and losing in the second round of the CIF-SS playoffs.

“We have the potential to be really good,” Espalin said. “If everything falls in place and everything works as it should, we can have a run at a league title and CIF playoffs.”

Contact the writer: kconnolly@ocregister.com


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