Valencia's Softball Success Starts in the Circle
May, 2011 - Issue #79
When the Valencia High softball team won a national championship in 2007, it wasn't having a loaded offensive lineup, a roster filled with so many college-bound players that some couldn't even crack the starting lineup, that made it the best team in the country - it was the fact that it had a pitcher, Jordan Taylor, who received exactly one run of support in each of the Vikings' playoff games and still found a way to earn 1-0 wins in all of them.

She was good.

When the Vikings repeated as CIF-Southern Section champions the next season, their replacement for Taylor, Jessica Spigner, was named the National Player of the Year.

She was good, too.

Before them, it was Courtney Baughman (Hawaii), Christina Ross (San Diego State) and Tori Rocco (Arkansas Tech) making their mark in the pitcher's circle for the Vikings, playing their part in Valencia's current 10-season Foothill League championship streak.

So yeah, pitching has played a big role in the Vikings' softball dynasty.

And yeah, the job Carly Mortensen was given two years ago as a freshman - starting pitcher for the Valencia varsity softball team - comes with its share of expectations.

After two years of on the job training, it's a pressure that she's fully embracing.

"I have to be good," Mortensen says. "They're counting on me to put us in a position to win. I don't call it pressure. It's my job. It's crazy to think about how many great pitchers have come before me in this program. I look up to them. They've made a huge impact here. I'm not trying to compare to them. I just want to win and build my own shoes."

Those shoes Mortensen has been building have been impressive so far.

During her 2009 freshman season, Mortensen not only was able to keep Valencia's league title streak alive, but she was named the Foothill League's Co-Player of the Year. She went 17-4 with an earned run average of 1.15, 160 strikeouts and six shutouts.

As a sophomore last season, Mortensen took the next step forward.

She earned a 22-1 record with a 0.89 ERA, 11 shutouts, two no-hitters and 203 strikeouts.

All of that was nothing, though. This year, Valencia head coach Donna Lee says, has been the true coming out party for Mortensen in the pitcher's circle for the Vikings.

As a pitcher, she is learning to embrace the impact she can have on the team.

"She understands that as our pitcher, as she goes, we go," Lee says. "It all starts in the circle. We build around the pitcher. That's how we've always done it. I tell her, she doesn't have to be [Taylor] and she doesn't have to be [Spigner]. Just be you. And this year, I think we're really starting to see the pitcher that she can be. She's been great."

Catcher Karlie Habitz says she has noticed a more confident, relaxed pitcher.

She says that being an upperclassman has helped Mortensen find her voice as a leader and has led to Mortensen taking more personal responsibility for the success of the team.

"She sets the whole tone for us," Habitz says. "When we see her doing well, we know it's going to be a good game. It brings out our A-game. We're just following in her footsteps. She has a great work ethic. She's always getting better, always putting in the extra work to make any adjustments she needs to make and to make sure our team is doing well."

Mortensen, in turn, credits her teammates with her improvement.

Her catcher in particular, Mortensen says, has helped her make the most out of a diverse pitching repertoire that includes a fastball, changeup, curveball, screwball, rise and drop.

"I've never been very fast," she says. "That's not how I get outs. Honestly a lot of my success has a lot to do with the fact we mix things up and are really unpredictable."

She's kept opponents off-balance enough to keep Valencia's string of league titles intact.

She's been good enough to keep another tradition alive as well among Viking pitchers - receiving her own scholarship, verbally committing to the University of the Pacific.

The junior is thrilled about receiving the scholarship. She's pleased that under her watch the Vikings have never relinquished the right to refer to themselves as the best team in the Santa Clarita Valley. Now it's time, she says, to aim for something even bigger.

It's time to achieve what her two predecessors achieved in their final seasons.

"Foothill League championships are always the goal," Mortensen says. "Playing for Valencia, you know everybody else wants to knock us off and are going to play their best against us. But this year, I think it's time. Hopefully this is the year we win a
CIF title."
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