Hornets’ softball team focuses on strengthening their mentality this season

Giuliana Grana

The Sacramento State Hornets’ softball team opens up their 2015 season this weekend at the So Cal Collegiate Classic in Long Beach, California on Feb. 5. The squad has been projected to finish second in the Big Sky Conference this year with 16 returners, including pitcher Caitlin Brooks and third baseman Alexis Martinez.

Martinez believes their fall season will be a reflection of the women’s success this spring and will help with their run for the conference title.

“I feel very prepared and we have been practicing very hard,” Martinez said. “In practices we have been coming together as a team.”

The Hornets are approaching this season differently than most.

This year, the women are spending more time in the classroom and focusing on the mental aspect of the game. Coach Lori Perez––who is entering her second season as head coach––said they’ve played faster and stronger in their offseason, but the biggest focus for them has been strengthening their mentality.

Perez said the team has been working on showing up to practice every day with the confidence that they’re going to win the Big Sky and will make it to the postseason.

Last season, their chances were squandered in the double elimination tournament by Idaho State, losing 10-7. While working on fielding and batting, they have also brought in a sports psychologist to bring the team together and to help understand one another.

“We have been doing a lot more team activities off the field and having a lot of team dinners,” said Hornets’ senior catcher Paris Prado. “It has really brought us together.”

In addition to a sports psychologist, they have a nutritionist this season to keep the women healthy and avoid injuries. One of the biggest challenges they will have this year is keeping everyone healthy. They currently have a few players that are not at 100 percent, but Perez hopes to have them ready by the start of conference action.

She also stressed the importance of controlling their opponents by having them compete at the Hornets’ level of play. In order to achieve this, the team has mentally focused themselves heading into every competition.

“Showing up game day walking on to the field as if we are the best team out there believing that, living it, breathing it, and playing for each other,” Perez said is what they’re striving for.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jen Hartman will start their first game on Friday against Long Beach State at 9 a.m. Hartman had 16 appearances last season with a 3.91 ERA in 68 innings pitched. She recorded five complete games in 10 appearances as a starter and struck out 32 batters.

For the Hornets second game on Friday against Northwestern State, senior pitcher Brooks is projected to start. Brooks was named Big Sky Pitcher of the Year and second-team All-Pacific Region as well. She finished last season with 17 starts, 14 complete games and three shutouts, finishing with an astounding 1.86 ERA.

Redshirt sophomore Martinez will be starting at third base. After recovering from a knee injury two seasons ago, Martinez was a first team All-Big Sky Conference selection last season. She appeared in 43 games and started in 39. She ended last spring with a .303 batting average and a .970 fielding percentage with only two errors all season.

Likely starting at shortstop this weekend will be senior Paige Castro. She was an honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selection and one of three Hornets to start in every game of the season. Her batting average last season was .341.

Freshman and second baseman Zamari Hinton from Sheldon High School is another key player for the team. She is a two-time first team All-City and four-time All Delta-River League selection. She will not be starting this weekend, due to an injury last week. Once she is cleared to play there is a good chance she could be the starting second baseman.

The Hornets have six seniors this year, including outfielders Paige Martin, Nicole Clark, Alexa Chattleton, catcher Prado, shortstop Castro and pitcher Brooks. These six will be the team captains this spring.

Sac State softball’s schedule includes 18 home games this season. The women will open up with a doubleheader against Saint Mary’s at home on Saturday, Feb. 21 at Shea Stadium.

Conference play will begin Friday, March 20 at home against the University of Northern Colorado at 12 p.m.