The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The College of San Mateo softball team is a squad on a mission.
The No. 11 seed Bulldogs (27-11) play at No. 6 Cosumnes River (25-14) of Sacramento this weekend in the opening round of the California Community College playoffs, a rematch from last season when CSM lost the best-of-three series two games to none. According to Bulldogs coach Nicole Borg, her team didn’t just lose — they were humiliated.
“We basically embarrassed ourselves,” she said.
CSM ace Lauren Cole took it a step further: “It was terrible and utterly ridiculous. I know, personally, I looked and played extra ridiculous.”
Redemption can be a powerful motivating factor, and it would be an understatement to say that Cole is looking forward to this series. The sophomore right-hander was in the circle for both of the playoff losses last season, walking in the winning run in the first game before getting the hook early in Game 2.
“I had some of my worst games in the playoffs last year,” Cole said. “I had to be taken out early in the second game because I was so bad.”
But what a difference a year makes. Cole went 20-5 this season with a Coast Conference-best 1.62 ERA, making first team all conference. In addition to her outstanding exploits in the circle, Cole was devastating with the bat, hitting .325 with 12 doubles, 32 runs scored and 41 hits. More importantly, though, Cole developed into a bonafide ace, a player every team needs if it wants to advance deep into the postseason.
t’s not as if Cole was chop liver last season; after all, she went 20-9. She’s just that much better mentally and physically.
Due to CSM’s lack of pitching depth last year, Cole had to carry the load in a huge way. She led the state in innings pitched, a testament to her durability, endurance and stamina. But all the innings caught up to her toward the end of the season.
“I was really burnt out in the playoffs,” Cole said. “I had to go to the training room a lot because I had so many issues with my body. But this year I’m a lot stronger and in much better shape. Everything is a step up this season.”
Cole never imagined she would become the team’s ace when she decided to play for CSM. At Santa Clara High, Cole had an up-and-down career. She was the team’s starting pitcher as a freshman but due to a coach’s decision, didn’t pitch a single inning as sophomore or junior. Cole said she only pitched sparingly in her senior year because the team’s starting pitcher was ineligible.
Of course, it just so happened that Borg saw Cole pitch in one of her few appearances in the circle as a senior. A finesse pitcher who possesses a tremendous curveball and dropball, Cole has made such a dramatic improvement that Borg described it as “one of the best I’ve seen in such a short amount of time.”
“Even from the start of this season to now, Lauren has made huge strides,” Borg said. “It’s great to see.”
The Bulldogs have made the playoffs in each of Borg’s four years at the helm. However, they have yet to win a playoff series. Safe to say CSM is looking to get the proverbial monkey off its back. Although Cosumnes River is a formidable foe — the teams split a pair of contests in February — the Bulldogs seemingly have what it takes to avenge last year’s bitter playoff defeat.
This is CSM’s most talented team in recent memory, with playmakers all over the field. In addition to Cole, the Bulldogs are paced by shortstop and Coast Conference Player of the Year and first team all state member Alyssa Jepsen, who prepped at Notre Dame-Belmont and attended Arizona State out of high school but didn’t play there. Despite having not played competitive softball for a year, Jepsen didn’t miss a beat. She hit .440, had 48 hits and scored 39 runs, all conference bests.
“She has definitely met my expectations and in some ways exceeded them,” Borg said. “She’s very smart, a student of the game, and is the type of player who challenged everyone around her because of her natural ability.”
In addition to Cole and Jepsen, CSM featured utility Nicole Cardoza, second baseman Meggan Craviotto and first baseman Sam Pacheco, who all made first team all conference. The Bulldogs’ second team, all conference players included Stephanie Bautista, Tatiana Grelli, Callie Pacheco and Tai Vegas.
As a former standout collegiate softball player, Borg knows what it takes to excel at something. That’s why she’s particularly proud of this year’s team, because in the last month, the players have hit their stride and are playing to their immense potential, something they weren’t doing as they struggled at the beginning and even in the middle of the season.
“I think sometimes it’s hard for young women to rise up to the occasion and welcome the expectations and challenge,” Borg said. “It’s not a knock on this community but it’s a more of a generational thing where a lot of times younger kids expect to walk out there and have things be easy. We preach every day about working hard to earn your spot, so by the end of your time here you can feel good about what you did. We’re a really good softball team — it just took us a while to figure that out.”