By Nick Giannandrea
The most successful softball team in College of the Sequoias' history -- all 14 players and coaches -- will gather for the first time in 25 years and lend inspiration to the current Giants' chase of another conference title and deep postseason run.
COS' 1994 state championship team is set to be honored before the Central Valley Conference-leading Giants host West Hills-Coalinga at 2 p.m. Thursday.
"It's going to be a fun day having all those players back," COS coach Cori Janelli said. "It's a huge honor for us."
Following a pregame celebration and introduction of the illustrious alumni, the Northern California No. 8-ranked Giants will attempt to move a step closer to a second straight CVC title.
COS (22-12 overall, 15-2 conference) leads second-place Reedley by one game with four to play. The Giants haven't won consecutive conference championships since 2007 and 2008.
"That has been our goal from day one: to win our conference and win state," Janelli said. "But we take it one game at a time. Focusing on the task at hand keeps things in perspective. If you look too far down the road, things can fall apart real quick."
COS has gone 20-5 since a 2-7 start that saw it lose its first five games, including wins in two of three games against state No. 14 Reedley.
Martinez has powered an offense that has a collective .295 batting average by clubbing eight home runs and 16 doubles while hitting .357 with 38 runs and 31 RBIs. Martinez combined for three hits, including two doubles, four runs and an RBI as the Giants swept Taft 9-6 and 8-0 in six innings during a CVC doubleheader Tuesday.
"She's definitely a leader at the plate for us," Janelli said. "It seems like whenever she's hot, the team is hot. We definitely rely on her a lot."
Guzman has pitched all but one of the 206 innings COS has played this season, compiling a 2.05 earned-run average while striking out 143.
"Our pitching has been fantastic all season," Janelli said. "Ari has done an awesome job for us."
With only 10 players, the Giants have needed contributions from their entire roster that includes catcher Cassandra Sunblade (.272, 4 HR, 24 runs, 15 RBI), first baseman Elizabeth Valdez (.247, 15 RBI), second baseman Callie Vincent (.250, 5 HR, 22 RBI); third baseman Aubrey Cardoza (.281, 2 HR, 13 RBI) and outfielders Jenna Reyes (.320, 30 runs, 11 RBI, 9 SB), Audra Pratt (.318, 1 HR, 28 RBI), Amanda Ojeda (.280, 13 runs) and Monica Meta (.136).
"We can't do anything about our numbers," Janelli said. "We have what we have and we do the best with what we have. We've tried to keep everyone healthy."
Janelli praised COS' athletic training staff for helping keep her players on the field all season.
The Giants, who are riding a four-game winning streak, close the regular season with a home nonconference game against state No. 5-ranked San Jose at 2 p.m. Friday, a home CVC doubleheader against Porterville at 1 and 3 p.m. on April 16 and a road game at Merced at 2 p.m. April 18.
The postseason begins with the Northern California Regionals on May 3-4.
"We have a really good group of women," Janelli said. "Everyone has bought into what we do. Their work ethic has been phenomenal. It's a great group to coach."
COS reached the Super Regionals last season as a No. 13 seed before being eliminated by No. 3 Sierra in a best-of-three series following losses of 9-1 and 2-1.
That left the 1994 Giants as the only team in school history to capture a state softball title.
Coached by Ken Tokunaga, COS went 42-12 and hosted the eight-team state tournament at Plaza Park.
The Giants capped their season with a 2-1 victory over Long Beach during a championship game that saw the plate umpire reverse an out call and give COS the first of its two fourth-inning runs.
Behind pitcher Susana "Gabby" Guerrero, COS opened the tournament with a 2-1 win over Cypress in 18 innings, then knocked off tournament favorite Palomar of San Marcos 1-0 in an 11-inning, 2 ½-hour game that started on a Friday night and wrapped up early Saturday morning.
Guerrero, who had a 0.42 ERA over 50 innings during the state championship tournament to earn MVP honors, held Long Beach to two hits in the final.
The Giants also received key contributions from third baseman Ramona Romero and shortstop Ruby Rubio (who each had seven hits during the state tournament), second baseman Melissa Self (six hits), right fielder Thea Bucholz (five hits) and left fielder Lisa McKinley (three hits and drove in the winning run against Cypress).
The championship team also featured catcher Dominique Ramil, first baseman Jennifer Bueno, center fielder Mercedes Leos, utility players Shelaine Santos and Mary Cruz, and assistant coaches Stacy Mosher and Roger Snow.
Mosher is now the coach at West Hills-Coalinga.
The team and their families will gather at Porter Field House at noon for lunch then be presented commemorative t-shirts, all courtesy of COS.
"We're all really looking forward to it," said Leos, who has helped spearhead the reunion. "Back in the day, we were diverse and from all over the Valley, and COS brought us together. We gelled really well and played well together. We were really focused and enjoyed playing."