A team that had one senior starter last year, the Kingsburg Vikings softball team were one game away from playing for a Central Section championship last season.
With majority of last year’s starting lineup returning, the Vikings expect to be more experienced and improved from a year ago.
“Our team had seven freshmen last year,” center fielder Carla Duarte said. “So now we’re more experienced. We had summer ball to prepare ourselves for the season.”
A total of nine players from last year's squad has returned.
As a team that featured seven freshmen and one sophomore, Kingsburg ended the 2018 season at 16-13-1 overall and 8-2 in Central Sequoia League play. The Vikings 8-2 league record earned the team a co-CSL championship with Dinuba. It was the program’s first league title since 2014.
The girls ended the 2018 campaign on a 14-6-1 run after starting the season at 2-7.
As the No. 2 seed, Kingsburg was eliminated from the Central Section Division II playoffs after a 13-3 semifinal loss to No. 3 Edison High.
“I feel like there was high expectations [last year],” catcher Marissa Gonzalez said. “Everyone knew there was a big group coming in. I feel like we met the standard and exceeded it.”
Gonzalez, who goes by the nickname “rabbit,” said team chemistry was vital for the girls to succeed last year. The sophomore expects that chemistry to carry over to this season.
“We knew we were going to do good because we knew each other,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been playing awhile with each other and working hard during the season.”
Duarte and Gonzalez were two of four girls that batted over .300 last year. The other two girls to eclipse a .300 batting average were Marissa Montelongo and Maddie Alves.
As a junior, Duarte batted .384, which was good for third-best on the team. She was also second on the team in hits with 38.
Gonzalez led the team in multiple batting categories last year as a freshman. She led the team in home runs (four), RBI (34), and triples (four). Gonzalez hit for a .409 average, which was second best on the team.
Montelongo led the team in batting average (.471) and hits (41) as a sophomore last season. Montelongo also entered the season on a 25-game hitting streak, which was extended to two games. Her hitting streak ended at 27 games after going 0-for-2 against Redwood during a tournament on March 8.
Alves hit .350 and was third on the team with 20 RBI as a junior. She was tied for the team-lead in doubles with Gonzalez at six.
One position that will have a new starter this season will be at pitcher. Sophomore Kayla Medrano and freshman Mia Estrada are the team’s two pitchers listed on the team’s roster.
Kingsburg head coach Randy Sieger said this current group of girls have potential to have a great season.
“The expectations are really high around here,” Sieger said. “We got pretty much everybody coming back. We’re still a young team...but we’re a really talented team. We expect to do well this year.”
For the Vikings to make another playoff run, the girls would have to play through a CSL schedule that features 12 games against six other teams that won at least one playoff game last season.
Selma, Dinuba, and Exeter all made a Valley championship appearance. Selma defeated Dinuba in the Division III game and Exeter won the Division IV title.
Hanford West, a Division I team, is a new member of the CSL this season. The Hanford West Huskies were co-champions of the West Yosemite League at 10-2 last year. The Huskies are the CSL’s only Division I team while Kingsburg is the league’s lone Division II squad.
“Anybody could beat anybody on any given day,” Sieger said. “It should make for a better league. Hanford West is tough, we play them several times in the past. Because we’re Division II, we play all of those [Division I] schools all the time.”
The Vikings opened the 2019 season with a 6-5 win over Clovis West on March 1. Kingsburg went into Central Sequoia League play on Tuesday with a 4-1-1 record.
The Vikings will play on the road against Hanford West on Friday at 4 p.m. Kingsburg started CSL play at home against Immanuel on Tuesday (after press time).
On Saturday, the Vikings will host a doubleheader against Arroyo Grande High School on Saturday. Game one is scheduled for 11:00 am and game two will occur at 1 p.m.
After, Kingsburg will host Clovis East in a nonleague game on March 19.