CCS Sophomore of the Year
LAUREN BAKER, ST. FRANCIS
The way the 2019 season started for St. Francis pitcher Lauren Baker was not anything like the way it ended.
At the beginning of the season Baker was slated as the back-up to Boise State-bound Jordan Schuring who pitched the Lancers to the 2018 Central Coast Section Open Division title.
Then, four games into the season Schuring was sidelined. That put the immediate spotlight directly on Baker who had pitched a mere two innings of varsity softball as a freshman after starting her freshman season on the junior varsity team.
Not only did Baker respond to the pressure of being thrust into the starter’s role for the defending CCS Open Division champions, she met the pressure head on, took the bull by the horns and pitched St. Francis back into the Open title game where they lost to the West Catholic Athletic League arch rival Archbishop Mitty team they had beaten for the title last season.
The result, is after all she did in the circle this past season for a Lancers team that ended up 24-6-1, No. 2 in the final Prep2Prep CCS rankings and No. 21 in the Cal-Hi Sports final expanded rankings, Baker has been named the Prep2Prep Central Coast Section Sophomore of the year.
“It’s unbelievable,” was Baker’s response to going from backup to start the season to being named the P2P CCS Sophomore of the Year.
St. Francis Coach Mike Oakland had Baker working on the side during warm ups for games last year but in the back of her mind Baker was ready when he handed her the ball this season.
“I always knew there would be an opportunity for me in the future,” Baker said. “But then I was pretty much given the opportunity, and once I was given the number one role I worked hard to build my teammates trust and didn’t want to let them down.
“My teammates have always been there for me, even when I didn’t have a lot of varsity experience,” continued Baker. “We push each other to work harsd in practice every day so when I was given my opportunity they rallied around me and always had my back.”
“Nice. That’s awesome. She deserves it,” Oakland said when told his ace was being honored by Prep2Prep.
And what kind of impact did Baker’s performance this season have on the team in general, particularly when she wasn’t even in the picture to start the season?
“Are you kidding me? She was phenomenal,” was Oakland’s response. “We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we were if not for her.”
“I think Lauren took the role in stride,” continued Oakland. “She battled through the adversity and kept grinding, and wants to win above everything else. Her teammates play hard behind her because they respect her competitive fire. ”
Baker fired her way to an 18-4 record with a 2.41 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 136.2 innings pitched, and she did it against hitters in top tournaments and in one of the toughest leagues in Northern California.
Baker came on in relief in the Lancers season opening 12-0 win over Capuchino-San Bruno and struck out two of the three batters she faced. In her first start two weeks later she faced a St. Ignatius team that is always tough and although she gave up four runs on seven hits and three walks, Baker struck out eight and the Lancers bats prevailed in a 12-4 victory.
In her next start Lauren handcuffed eventual CCS Open Division No. 5 seed Carlmont in a 3-0 victory in which Baker had a three-hitter with five strikeouts.
Playing in the top tournament in Northern California Baker was impressive to open the Livermore Stampede. Coming off a 3-2 win over CCS No. 3 ranked and eventual Open Division top-seeded Presentation, she opened the Stampede with a five-hitter with 14 strikeouts in a 7-2 victory over Prep2Prep North Coast Section No. 5 ranked Carondelet-Concord.
In two appearances against Valley Christian and Prep2Prep reigning CCS Player of the Year and Cal-bound Kacey Zobac, she gave up a triple and a single but struck out 14 in the game she gave up the three-bagger, a 6-1 victory, and in the second game where Zobac singled, a 16-0 victory, Oakland pulled Baker in favor of freshman Haley Nishijima after three innings and the Lancers holding a 14-0 lead.
Mitty was a bit of a nemesis as she only was able to muster a 2-2 record against the Monarchs but although she got roughed up in the two losses, including the Open title game defeat, in the two games St. Francis won she pitched well. In a 3-1 victory Baker tossed a two-hitter with nine strikeouts, and she only had three strikeouts but only gave up five hits when the Lancers bats took over in a 14-4 victory.
Another very solid performance came against CCS Open No. 7 seed Silver Creek when Baker struck out 10 and only gave up four hits in a 5-1 victory.
Schuring returned for the playoffs but only as a reliever as Oakland stuck with Baker as the starter. Before the 6-0 CCS Open title game loss to Mitty that ended the season, Lauren went 5.2 innings against sixth-seeded Santa Teresa and gave up two runs on four hits with seven strikeouts in a 9-2 victory. A very solid Notre Dame-Salinas team that was actually seeded higher than the No. 3 seeded Lancers as the second seed, got to her for four runs in the semifinals, but St. Francis had built a 6-0 lead en route to a 7-4 victory.
“Lauren had some great wins this year and it’s hard to say in what game she threw her best in,” Oakland said. “But for me her performance in the Stampede against Carondelet was something I just haven’t seen before. She struck out eight of the first nine batters and 14 total against a very good hitting team.”
Oakland didn’t let her bat very much but in 10 plate appearances, mostly early in the season, she had three hits with a double and two runs batted in.
“Now that I have finished my first season as number one I want to come back next season an even better player, and improve every single day so I’m ready for whatever competition there will be in the future,” said the 3.23 GPA student-athlete who says her favorite subject is math. “My number one goal is for us to bounce back and win CCS (Open) next year. It’s achievable. We just have to continue to work hard as a team and grind every day at practice.”
Oakland is pleased and looking for big things from Baker, who will play this summer with the NorCal Xperience out of San Jose.
“This past year Lauren embraced the challenge of being the number one and having to compete against the best teams in and out of the section,” Oakland remarked. “I’m very excited for her future.”
For her efforts throughout this season, we are pleased to recognize Lauren Baker as the Prep2Prep Central Coast Section Sophomore of the Year.
Other players considered for this award include Burlingame’s Sydney Fleming, Notre Dame-Salinas’ Angelita Fuentes, San Mateo’s Sage Hager, Pioneer’s Mari Takeda-Bajan, Los Gatos’ Alaana Panu and Valley Christian’s Aubrie Thomas.