With the Spartans’ season spiraling, Mountain View High softball coach Xavier Cook made a desperate plea to his team last month.
“I sat them down one day and said, ‘We’re 7-10 and our backs are against the wall,’” recalled Cook, whose squad had lost four straight. “‘We’ve got to find ways to win games, plain and simple. Let’s work on the things we’re not good at it, and the things we’re strong at, let’s make even stronger.’”
After asking his players what they wanted to do in practice to achieve these goals, Cook said he introduced some new drills “and they finally bought into how we want to play.”
Two weeks later, the Spartans find themselves in playoff contention. A seven-game winning streak has boosted Mountain View’s overall record to 14-10, which includes a 4-5 mark in the SCVAL De Anza Division that’s good enough for fifth place. Two of the wins came against teams ahead of the Spartans in the standings: league-leading Milpitas and third-place Wilcox.
“We’re doing a lot of things right,” Cook said. “I’m really proud of the girls.”
It all started with that 7-4 victory over visiting Milpitas April 25. The Spartans looked like a different team than the one that fell 4-3 to the Trojans a month earlier.
“The first game, we went up 3-0 in the first (inning) but then made four errors that cost us,” Cook said. “The second game, I told the girls, ‘We can get this team. Just do what you’ve been doing (in practice).’ We got down 3-0, but we came back to win, and we’ve been going ever since.”
Tabby Smith put Mountain View ahead with a grand slam in the third inning. The junior – who moved to catcher from third base this season to replace the injured Mikayla Kim – tops the team in batting average (.400), homers (four) and RBIs (26).
Two days later, the visiting Spartans took down Wilcox 11-7 behind Marissa Tsoi’s big day at the plate. The senior outfielder went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and scored a run. Junior infielder Mili Patel contributed two hits, drove in a run and scored twice.
“Marissa, Mili and Tabby have really stepped up for us,” Cook said.
Patel’s .354 batting average ranks second on the squad; she also has a team-high 10 doubles and nine steals. Tsoi is batting .295, and her 19 RBIs are the second most on the team.
“Our hitting has gone up,” Cook said prior to Friday’s 11-2 non-league win at Notre Dame-Belmont. “At one point, we were hitting .230 in league, which is not good. Now, we’ve jumped to .266 in league.”
Along with better batting, the Spartans have been winning with “great pitching and good defense,” Cook added, “and we’re running the bases well.”
Freshman Allison Marcellino has been Mountain View’s ace on the mound. Boasting an ERA of 2.02, her 8-5 record includes six wins during the Spartans’ streak of success. Cook described Marcellino as a “power pitcher,” and her 76 strikeouts seem to support that.
“Allison has pitched well and has grown up a lot,” the coach said. “She’s competing.”
Marcellino has also been productive at the plate, batting .294 with five doubles.
Fellow freshman Caroline Kim has put together a 2-2 record in seven appearances. A high ankle sprain has kept the pitcher/outfielder out of action since last week, but Cook said he hopes to have her back soon.
The versatile Naila Rocha is the other freshman on the roster of 16, which includes just two seniors.
“It’s a young team, but I like how they’re playing right now,” Cook said. “The future looks bright, especially with the young pitching staff we have.”
He is more concerned about the present, however, hoping his Spartans can finish the league season strong this week. Mountain View was slated to go on the road Monday and Tuesday to face Cupertino and Los Gatos, respectively, before hosting Thursday’s 4 p.m. regular season finale against Homestead.
“Before, it wasn’t looking good,” Cook said of qualifying for the Central Coast Section playoffs that begin May 20. “Now, it looks pretty good. We have the potential to finish 7-5 (in league) and maybe host a (CCS) game. But we have to take it one game at a time and stay focused.”
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