‘Freshman 6’ carry the torch for the future of softball

Connor Ashford

While the Sacramento State softball team stays focused on one game at a time, their future truly looks bright.

A large freshman class for the Hornets features six new faces, each fitting the frame of what coach Lori Perez wants out of the players on her team. This is the first class brought in by the new coaching regime, and the coaches think that these players can help take the program to the next level.

“We had a clear vision of the kind of ballplayers we wanted to bring in, the character of them, what they could bring to the program,” Perez said. “So the players that we’ve brought in really fit that mold of what we look for on the athletic side and in their character.”

Early returns on this class have been encouraging, with all of them totally committing to the team and embracing a role where they don’t have to be on the field to contribute. The players know that they’re the first faces of a new era, and they’re eager to start that future sooner rather than later.

“We felt with them, early on, even once we recruited them and they had committed to coming here, they were all very excited about wanting to be a part of this program,” Perez said. “That’s paramount. I want them to envision wearing the uniform and take pride in that, and they all do.”

While freshmen are generally expected to take on bigger roles later in their careers, a couple have forced their way into the starting lineup on a regular basis already. Sydney Rasmussen has taken over the starting shortstop gig, while Natalie Alas has forced her way into the outfield picture, growing into the primary right fielder for the Hornets.

“Sydney Rasmussen playing shortstop in a Division I is a very big responsibility and it is a challenge every day,” Perez said. “When she has a bad day, it’s noticed because she gets a lot of balls at short, and she’s our leadoff hitter. She’s handled the pressure as good as you can.”

Even the freshman shortstop didn’t know what was in store for her in just her first year on the squad. The team doesn’t hand out starting gigs to just anyone, and Rasmussen ran with that opportunity to take a starting spot.

“I came in here not knowing that I was going to become a starter. I just learned that I just needed to work very hard at practice,” Rasmussen said. “Being a freshman, that’s just kind of what you need to do. You have to work 10 times harder than everyone else to earn that starting spot.”

While Rasmussen and Alas have gotten the most playing time, a couple others have made early impacts and added wins for the Hornets. Pitcher Savanna Corr has pitched the second most innings on the team and has carved out a spot for herself on the squad.

“I see her down the road potentially being in a leadership role for us,” Perez said. “I think she’s got that ability, that makeup, and once she gets some more confidence and more experience, that’s going to come out even more. She loves this game, loves competing with her teammates.”

One of the players recruited by Perez, designated player and pitcher Alexxiss Diaz, has also worked her way towards some at bats, being one of the five players on the team with a home run and looking like a legitimate weapon for next year. Impressed with things like matching gear to create clubhouse unity, Sac State made an impression on her.

“In the beginning, I was apprehensive when I went up to bat or play because I was so unsure about my role on the team, or unsure that I was good enough,” Diaz said.

Diaz may have started off slow, but after the first impression of collegiate softball wore off, things began to come together for her. And now it’s her turn to make an impression on the program.

“We brought her in for her offense. And it’s starting to click for her now. She’s really got some great power, she’s got a good eye at the plate, she can draw walks,” Perez said. “I think she’s an intimidating presence when she’s in the box just in the way she steps in and gets to work.”

Others will get opportunities as their teammates graduate and spots open up. Tiffany Moore, an offensive-minded catcher, will have a golden opportunity to earn future at bats as the only underclass catcher on the roster. Sydney Strong, an outfielder who just lost out on a starting gig in the beginning of the season, looks like exactly the type of player the new coaches were looking for.

“Sydney has got a ton of power in her bat. I see huge offensive potential for her and she’s somebody, defensively, who gets good reads on balls,” Perez said. “She was very close to being in the starting lineup, but Kayla [Papez] won it out and that’s just how it goes, but Sydney does a great job of keeping things light in the dugout and understanding her role and learning.”

Replacing six new players is never easy, but the coaches found young talent that will be building blocks for a promising future. Corr and Rasmussen actually played together for a few years prior to Sac State, and the entire group has come together better than the program expected.

“Overall, them being unified, their personalities, the likeness and fun they’ve brought has been the biggest surprise,” Perez said. “They’ve been fun, they’ve kept me laughing, and they’ve done a good job of just kind of getting it.”