It’s 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3 and all is quiet at Castleberg Park in Riverbank, save for methodical popping sounds echoing from the southern-most softball diamond.
Closer scrutiny reveals a pair of athletes stretched across the full length of the infield, donned in T-shirts, running shorts, brunette ponytails and serious expressions.
Aimee Lopez stretches a softball to the edge of her lean frame and whips an arm forward, plopping the ball into a glove extended from the athletic build of her sister, Amanda Lopez — who immediately fires back. The two repeat the long throws for several minutes, before moving on to strenuous defensive drills.
The rare sighting of these elite athletes is one of the last Riverbank will host this summer, as the sisters prepare to depart the City of Action for Rutherford, New Jersey and the NCAA Division II softball program at Felician College.
It’s where Aimee has been a stellar starting shortstop for two years, and where Amanda hopes to make a splash in 2014 after a year of struggles at CSU San Bernardino.
Since Amanda transferred and accepted a scholarship from the Golden Falcons, the two will compete on the same program for the first time since the 2011 Riverbank High softball season.
“I think it’s a really great move for Amanda,” Riverbank softball coach Cassi Ross said. “I know they are incredibly close and I was real happy to learn they were going to play together, because I know they miss each other.”
“I’m super excited, and I am sure it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Amanda added on Friday. “It didn’t feel right down south at San Bernardino and I really missed my family a lot.
“I got a relief form and started talking to Aimee’s coach (Lori Kwiatkowski), who offered me a scholarship big enough to cover my full tuition.”
The transfer allows Amanda to cast off memories of a lackluster true freshman season at San Bernardino, where 30 starts relinquished only seven hits (a .106 batting average) as the Coyotes struggled to an 18-36 overall record.
It wasn’t a performance expected from the 2012 Riverbank News Athlete of the Year, who was spectacular in Trans-Valley League softball play and became a standout in volleyball and golf as well.
While she battled through a tough freshman campaign, her older sister continued a sterling college career on the other side of the country. Aimee ended fifth in the nation for single-game triples by belting three in one contest, then swung well to finish the year with a .301 average, 44 hits, 20 runs batted in, 36 runs, and seven triples.
With two years of eligibility remaining, Aimee Lopez already holds the Felician school records in triples (10) and is No. 6 all-time in runs scored. She’s scattered across the top-10 of several other career and season records.
“It has been really good for me here, softball-wise,” Aimee said. “It has been more than I ever expected. Even though we are Division II, the competition is more like D-I and we are always working so hard in practice.”
Aimee was thrilled to learn she would be reunited with her sister, who will share an apartment with her when the two depart later this summer.
“I am very happy we get to play together again,” Aimee said. “My first year at college was hard without her, but now we are back together and it’s really nice.”
Aimee, 20, and Amanda, 19 as of Friday, will be key cogs in a Golden Falcon program that lost eight of its last 10 games last year and failed to reach the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Tournament for the first time in three years.
But things are looking up. Felician is poised to return its seven top hitters and two of the three active pitchers from the 2013 season. The team announced seven signees on July 29, including Amanda and Baruch College transfer Chelsea DeGuzman, who hit .379 for the New York City program in 2013.
“We are excited about the depth and talent these incoming athletes will bring to the squad,” coach Kwiatkowski said in an email to the Riverbank News. “Their game maturity, and the fact that four of them have college experience, will ease the transition that comes with such a large class.“The strength of our returning team and the addition of these seven young ladies make us look forward to a very strong 2014 campaign.”