Years: Five at Central; 22 overall
Record: 28-6 (8-2 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference); 113-50-3 (27-23 TRAC) overall at Central
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He's qualified because: Guided a veteran group featuring two four-year varsity players and six others in their third seasons to the program's first Central Section softball title. Lindsey Clarkson, one of the third-year players, pitched a perfect game and singled in a run, fellow three-year player Robyn Alvara knocked in two runs and four-year starter Brittny Embrey also drove in a run as the second-seeded Grizzlies' defeated No. 4 Clovis West 4-0 in the Division I final for only the second section title for a girls team in Central history. The Grizzlies, who also won the TRAC title, ended the season ranked No. 15 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports; and No. 12 in the state and No. 44 nationally by maxpreps.com.
Knocking on the door: Central reached the D-I semifinals the past three seasons, and returned all but one starter from the team that lost 1-0 in 10 innings to eventual champion El Diamante in 2011. Then this season, riding the 1-2 pitching punch of Clarkson and Rachel Rodriguez, the Grizzlies cemented their top-contender status by winning the Clovis Easter Classic — a run that saw Central knock off the then-nationally ranked Miners 4-2 in eight innings in the semifinals — and TRAC titles. "I knew if we could get our defense better and hit the ball a little more, we’d have a good chance of going far," Gorton said. "We set high goals at the beginning and by year’s end, we achieved every goal we set for ourselves."
Changing the culture: The year before Gorton arrived from Southern California, Central had made an unexpected run to the D-I final, where it lost to Clovis 8-4. That capped a season in which the Grizzlies went 5-7 against Clovis Unified schools and 15-7 against the rest of the section. In Gorton's second season, Central went 7-4 vs. Clovis Unified schools en route to winning the TRAC title. "We had to get them to believe they could compete every game in our league," Gorton said. "We took a lot of one-run losses my first year. The next year we were able to turn some of those into one-run wins. We might lose some games now, but we're always confident we can compete."
The future: Central is expected to return nine players next season, including six — Jilee Schanda, Selena Ruiz, Alyssa Avila, Rachel Knott, Rachel Rodriguez and Kaylynn Burt — who started against Clovis West in the D-I final. "Central has a lot of good young athletes and some good kids coming in the next two, three, four years," Gorton said. "I'm looking to build something where year in, year out, we can be among the top teams."
Also considered: Monache's Dave Koontz, who directed the Marauders on an unexpected run to the D-II title as an eighth seed. Monache won three playoff games on the road, including 6-4 at No. 2 Clovis North for the title hours before graduation ceremonies for the Marauders' three seniors.