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Lady Bruins Look To Underclassmen For Leadership
Riverbank High's Amanda Lopez collected a fastball down the middle with an emphatic smack into her catcher's mitt and fired the ball back to teammate Carlye Avey with enough velocity to reach centerfield.

A pitch later she tracked down a rise-ball well over an outstretched Orestimba bat for strike three and immediately fired another rocket back to the pitcher's mound, in preseason action on Thursday.

The routine has all the precision of a veteran battery, making it hard to imagine that the two Bruin players only carry a combined three full seasons of prep softball under their belt.

Lopez and Avey are just two players with limited varsity experience on a team loaded with talented players scheduled to return for another season.

First baseman Jessica Hutson is the lone senior among four freshmen, two sophomores and three juniors on Riverbank's softball team.

The team went 2-1 to open preseason play and on Thursday, March 18 will test their mettle against the Trans-Valley League with a regular season opener against visiting Modesto Christian.

Avey, a two-year Trans-Valley All League honoree, leads a young group of savvy players into another season with hopes of a top-three league finish and advancement into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs.

Riverbank will struggle to upend the reigning D-V champion Escalon Cougars, who return TVL MVP (pitcher) Caitlin Brooks. Hughson (6-1) has eight seniors and will also be a formidable opponent.

But the rest of the TVL carries a combined 2-8 record through the first few preseason contests, leaving an open window for the league's third seed into the postseason (The TVL sent only two teams last year).

"Escalon and Hughson will be the frontrunners," Riverbank coach Cassi Ross said. "Hughson has eight seniors (seven start) and Escalon is last year's champion of the TVL."

Riverbank has swagger of their own in a stellar pitching battery of a pair of returning All League players in Avey and Lopez. Avey sports a .538 average from the plate with seven hits, two doubles and four RBI after just three games. She also went 2-1 from the hill, posting a 1.09 ERA in over 19 innings of work with 21 strikeouts and only four walks.

Newcomer Ashley Rogers is 5-for-13 on the young season and had belted nine RBI with three doubles three games in.

"(Rodgers) will provide the team with a big bat and steady play at third," Ross said.

Riverbank opened the season with a dominating 11-0 rout of Denair and tagged Millennium for an 11-6 victory before a 2-1 loss to 2009 Western Athletic Conference runner-ups and semi-final playoff qualifiers, Hilmar.