Noticably absent from this week’s Sac-Joaquin Section girls’ softball playoffs are Oak Ridge High and four-year senior starting pitcher Kasey Stanchek.
For three straight seasons, Stanchek toed the rubber at the Sacramento Softball Complex and pitched the Trojans to back-to-back-to-back section titles — outright or sometimes in comebacks.
Oak Ridge, with eight Division II and III championships to its credit, the most in the section, won four straight from 2007 to 2010, which ties both Lincoln and Bear River for most consecutive banners. Unfortunately, the Trojans fell short of making the playoffs this season and won’t win a fifth.
Part of the reason is Troy’s move up to D-I and the Delta River League, which is arguably the toughest in the section. Three of the teams in the league were ranked in the top 20 in the state before the season began.
Oak Ridge’s run production slipped to 3.6 runs per game (.233 team batting average) after scoring/batting 4.9 (.294), 6 (.348) and 4.78 (.334) in overall offensive numbers the three previous seasons. The Trojans also had to muscle in on new territory — not an easy feat — as three of the last four D-I titles were won by Delta River League teams.
The stiffer competition that awaited Stanchek didn’t take her by surprise. She dealt with a summer injury, the adjusted distance from the rubber to home plate (from 40 feet to 43) and battled to a respectable 11-6 record, but the team’s 5-5 league finish left the girls outside looking in at the postseason.
Stanchek hoped early on that the team would come together and make a run at the playoffs.
“A lot of the girls in the league have played together in the past and I like the challenge. The competition just makes the team better,” Stanchek said hopefully early in the season.
“We’ve had a couple of losses, which were tough, but hopefully we can learn from them and finish better than we started. In terms of a fourth straight title, I’d like to win the whole section but right now I’m just focused on league.”
Unfortunately, Stanchek and the Trojans won’t be there.
Watching Stanchek pitch, it’s hard to tell whether she’s winning or losing because of her icy demeanor in the circle. Using a variety of pitches, speeds and locations, Stanckek can command up to six pitches consistently.
The righthander put up stellar numbers during her Oak Ridge career. She went a combined 77-17 with an ERA of .95 and 975 strikeouts. Last year she was 25-4, fanned 321 and sported an ERA of .81. In her sophomore season, in which she posted a 21-2 record with 276 strikeouts and a .43 ERA, Stanchek didn’t give up a single run in all four playoff appearances.
Through it all, Stanchek always gave credit to her teammates.
“I’ve always had great defenses behind me and great teams behind me — the defense never slumps,” Stanchek said. “I owe it all to my teammates. Sure there’s pressure being the pitcher but it comes with the territory — if they (opposition) can’t score, we can’t lose.”
She racked up plenty of awards: receiving all league honors each year, including being named MVP last season; All Metro first team twice and once on the second team; team defensive MVP the last two years; and the Oak Ridge Female Athlete of the Year as a sophomore — everything Trojan coach Marc Bentovoja envisioned prior to Stanchek’s arrival.
“We knew she was coming and the first day of tryouts was like Christmas morning — you’re anxious to see what you have and we had an impact player from the start,” Bentovoja said.
Oak Ridge’s premature end to its season doesn’t extinguish the light on Stanchek’s career. She made her decision early and recently signed to play for the University of Washington. She will join a Huskies’ program that won it all in 2009.
“I ‘verballed’ during my sophomore year. I really love the school, the coaches were awesome and the teammates very personable. It’s a great school and I’m really looking forward to it,” Stanchek said.
“I’m hoping to learn a lot from the older girls, work hard and help the team. It’s a great pitching staff — hopefully I can be one of them.”
And her thoughts about playing for Oak Ridge?
“Great program, great environment and coaches who are always willing to give their time,” Stanchek said. “That’s what made it so enjoyable. I never found myself not wanting to be there.”
Now that she is leaving, Bentovoja and the team have a void to fill.
“I believe she’ll have success but she’ll be tested and it’ll come down to how much she loves it,” Bentovoja said. “They’re (University of Washington) two years removed from a national championship. There’ll be a little slack for freshmen but they’ll also expect them to hit the ground running.”
Stanchek can do that. After all, she did it four years ago for the Trojans when as a freshman, she stepped in and pitched the team to a section title.
One can only wonder what could have been.