Every year the Port Of Los Angeles High softball team has reached the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Small Schools Division playoffs, they have taken home the championship. The 2013 season was a magical year as they not only won their third straight title, they dominated that division to the point where they basically outgrew the division.
So the 2014 Polar Bears have decided to step out and challenge themselves even more.
Scheduling tough tournaments and nonleague games have been the norm for fifth-year coach Melissa Bugarin-Espinoza but in perhaps the boldest move of all, POLA has decided to move up into the Division I realm of the playoffs where perennial powers Carson (the defending Division I champion), El Camino Real of Woodland Hills, Banning of Wilmington, Kennedy of Granada Hills and yes, even in-city neighbor San Pedro, all reside in.
"I know it will be no walk in the park," says Bugarin-Espinoza on the strength of Division I in the City Section. "We are fully aware we are going to have to bust our butt to even make playoffs since we do not have a strong league."
That league being the Crosstown League, where POLA hasn't even been challenged in three years, let alone been defeated. Even though Harbor Teacher Prep of Wilmington has added five freshmen, including a pitcher, it likely won't be enough to challenge the experienced, and dangerous Polar Bear team.
POLA returns the reigning City Section Small Schools Pitcher Of The year in junior pitcher Nicolle Miranda, and the reigning Player Of The Year in senior first baseman Allison Bayer, who both are expected to have tremendous seasons. Bayer is going for a fourth straight ring along with fellow All-City Small Schools selections senior shortstop Kelsea Short and senior outfielder Sarah Maldonado.
Both Miranda and Bayer were also Cal-Hi Sports All-State Small Schools selections last season.
Bugarin-Espinoza returns ten players to her 16-player team this year, nine of which were All-City Small Schools selections.
Junior infielders Rosemary Garcia and Savana Ramirez are both solid defensively, and carries a mean stick. Junior outfielder Adriana Vargas and junior infielder Tiffany Mercado also provide solid experience, and sophomore outfielder Emily Ibarra is excellent as a designated player. Junior infielder Briana Valencia can start on any other school, and is another dangerous hitter for POLA, who went 28-8 last season.
Senior catcher Stephanie Ramirez returns to varsity after playing two years on the junior varsity team. Ramirez drove in a run in the 2011 City Section championship game against Northridge Academy during her freshman season.
A strong freshman class comes in to boost POLA, and the crown jewel is freshman pitcher Analise De La Roca, who verbally committed to Arizona State in late January. De La Roca can throw up to nine different pitches, and also is dangerous with the bat, giving Bugarin-Espinoza another option besides Miranda to throw in the circle as they compete in the Redondo, Torrance TNT, Las Vegas Spring Jamboree and El Segundo Tournaments.
Freshmen outfielders Shelby Younkin, Robyn Grayson and infielder Celeste Maldonado, Sarah's younger sister, along with Torrance transfer Kristi Gutierrez, a junior outfielder, round out the rest of the team.
POLA has nonleague games against West Torrance, Narbonne of Harbor City, and a high profile neighboring showdown with San Pedro on April 24 at the Pistol Range Complex and will begin their season on Monday at the Redondo Tournament with pool play games against West and Downey.
It just might be a season to remember for these Polar Bears.