2017-03-16 / Sports

Ring ’em up

Calabasas softball team wants to reach the postseason
SOFTBALL /// Calabasas Coyotes
By Eliav Appelbaum


FUN HOUSE—Calabasas High pitcher Jessica Ross delivers a pitch against Westlake on Tuesday at home. The Coyotes lost 3-0 in the Marmonte League opener. Ross, a junior, verbally committed to Ohio State. 
Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers FUN HOUSE—Calabasas High pitcher Jessica Ross delivers a pitch against Westlake on Tuesday at home. The Coyotes lost 3-0 in the Marmonte League opener. Ross, a junior, verbally committed to Ohio State. Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Nicole Hillman picked herself up from the dirt infield.

Tiny rocks were embedded in her palm, which was flecked with blood. She had cuts on her arms and elbows.

Her manicure, however, was immaculate. The maroon nail polish glittered in the California sun.

Hillman, who patrols second base for the Calabasas High softball team, was getting ready for a spring formal dance that weekend. The Coyotes ribbed Hillman for getting a spray tan before shimmying to the Harlem Shake. It’s part of the joy of spending every day after school with teammates.

“They’re all my best friends,” Hillman said. “I look forward to coming to softball. . . . We stay mentally strong by staying positive. We all try to pump each other up.”


SEARCH AND DESTROY—Calabasas shortstop Nicole Naidrich, right, tags out Westlake’s Lauren Jones, who attempted to steal second base. SEARCH AND DESTROY—Calabasas shortstop Nicole Naidrich, right, tags out Westlake’s Lauren Jones, who attempted to steal second base. Calabasas, 5-4 overall and 0-1 in the Marmonte League, is off to a solid start on the diamond.

The Coyotes, led by 18th-year head coach Barbara Hofer, rely on ferocious pitching, solid defense and timely hitting at the plate. There isn’t a single senior in the program, but experience isn’t an issue with this squad.

Everything starts in the circle for Calabasas.

Jessica Ross, a junior pitcher, is the staff ace.

“I’m excited to see how we do against some of the stronger teams in league,” Ross said. “We’re improving every year.”

Ross throws the fastball, screwball, curveball, curve-changeup, screw-changeup, drop ball and rise ball for strikes, shredding the zone like Miyamoto Musashi carving up meatheads on Mount Hiko.


RAW POWER—Calabasas center fielder Kaitlin Rasborn, a writer for the Calabasas Courier, swings the bat against Westlake on March 14. RAW POWER—Calabasas center fielder Kaitlin Rasborn, a writer for the Calabasas Courier, swings the bat against Westlake on March 14. The Coyote committed to Ohio State in December 2015, months before her sophomore season started. Ross enjoys playing alongside her sister, Nicole, a freshman starter at third base.

“She’s really aggressive in the field,” the pitcher said of Nicole. “She’s diving all over the place.”

Jessica and Nicole Ross play volleyball— they’re outside hitters—and they’re both Girl Scouts. Their younger sister, Amy, 12, is the home field announcer who cues the walk up music for each Calabasas batter and updates the electronic scoreboard.

Kaitlin Rasborn, a sophomore center fielder, hit a walk-off, two-run home run against Fillmore in a 2-1 Calabasas victory on March 7. She also thumped a walk-off bleacher burner last year against Newbury Park.

“I never thought that it would happen again,” Rasborn said. “It’s such a great feeling running around the bases when everyone’s cheering.”

Rasborn, a staff writer for the Calabasas Courier student newspaper, said she’s grateful to play on a team with great chemistry.

The 15-year-old started playing softball 11 years ago with West Valley Girls Softball. She’s a versatile spark plug who hits for power but also can slap, bunt and spray the ball all over the field. She’s got wheels and a good arm.

Rasborn, an honors student with a 4.2 grade-point average, is vice president of the Smiles for Miles club. Her sisters Erin and Samantha, 11-year-old twins, play softball and soccer.

“I hope we can make the playoffs,” Rasborn said. “My dream would be to win league and a CIF championship. That would be amazing. But one step at a time.”

Julia Gubner is a talented catcher.

The sophomore missed six weeks of action with an injury last season. When she did return, the Coyote operated at first base. The cleanup hitter is healthy and playing well behind the dish this spring. She mashed two triples in a 9-1 romp of Canyon on March 4.

“We’re very cohesive,” Gubner said. “We work well together. We have a strong lineup. One through nine can hit.”

Gubner has one rule when she’s on the diamond—never give up on a play.

The Coyote enjoys playing golf in her free time; her favorite courses are at Sherwood and Calabasas country clubs. Her twin brother, Sam, is on the debate team at de Toledo High. Their older brother, Alex, is a junior offensive lineman for the Chaminade football team. Julia Gubner is active in Charity Water club and does mock trial.

She’s looking forward to battling foes in the Marmonte.

“We’re a dark horse,” Gubner said. “People are not expecting much from us. When we show up, I think they’ll be really surprised.”

Morgan Jennings, a starter at first base who also pitches, is another dynamic sophomore.

Jennings said she likes playing for Hofer and assistant coach Peter Dryer.

“They really help me with softball, and they’re always so positive,” she said.

Jennings is a well-rounded teen who isn’t afraid to try something new.

The New Jersey native plays violin for the school orchestra. She’s active in Relay For Life, and she loves to read.

Jennings played volleyball for the first time in the fall. She suited up at middle blocker for the frosh-soph team.

“I went to tryouts and winged it,” she said. “I thought I was going to be cut. I had no clue what I was doing the whole time.”

The Coyote grew up swimming with her older brothers Sean and Kyle, who swam collegiately for Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

She loves trying new sports, but she’s not a fan of girls’ lacrosse.

“I don’t like that there’s no contact,” Jennings said.

Softball hits the spot.

“We all want to do well,” Jennings said. “I really believe in this team.”

Hillman started at catcher last year. The honors student who gets straight A’s is patrolling second base for the first time in her life.

“I’m getting the hang of it,” Hillman said. “I like it. It’s comfortable.”

Hillman, a New Hampshire native, wants to play college sports like her older brothers: Erik Hillman, who won a CIF football title in 2015 with the Coyotes, suits up at running back for Willamette University in Oregon; Tim Hillman, who played baseball and football at Calabasas, is a junior safety for the Whittier College football team.

Nicole Hillman is active in Relay For Life and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises money for pediatric cancer research.

Jordyn Shapiro, a sophomore left fielder, is president of the Calabasas chapter of Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Shapiro is a defensive standout.

Nicole Naidrich, a junior, is a leadoff hitter who starts at shortstop.

Mia Medrano, a junior, contributes at left field and first base. This is her first season playing softball for Calabasas after she competed on the school’s track and field team as a sophomore.

Anais Larson, a junior, roams the outfield and second base.

Emily Lavin, a sophomore, is a right fielder.

Allyson Weissman is a sophomore designated hitter who also plays at first base.

“We know what we’re up against,” Hofer said. “We understand that there’s exceptional talent in our league. . . . We’re going to come to play this year. We’re going to fight every game.”

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