Members of the Malibu High Sharks softball team have fielded ground balls on the gridiron and caught pop-up tennis balls on the hardwood.
The 13-member squad couldn’t practice on their home diamond for weeks due to muddy damage wrought by heavy rains that followed November’s Woolsey Fire. Heading into this week, the Sharks were hopeful repairs were complete on the Malibu High softball field, and they would be able to practice there by midweek and host an opponent on Friday.
Malibu had a 3-2 record heading into their Tuesday game at Mark Keppel, despite not having a home field to train on. The Sharks are scheduled to host Coastal Christian on Friday at 3:30 p.m. if their field is mud free.
Malibu head coach Geoff Stern on Sunday said he is happy with how the team is playing and hopes the softball field is ready for action.
“We are doing the best we can with what we have,” he said. “There have been some positives of not having a field. That is just mostly the team coming together, but it will be good to hopefully Wednesday or Thursday this week actually have a legitimate softball practice before our first home game.”
The Woolsey Fire burned structures and land throughout Malibu, but mostly left Malibu High unscathed. However, the hills above the campus were scorched and heavy rainfall after the wildfire caused mud to deluge onto the softball and baseball fields and the tennis court. More heavy rain was predicted to hit the area Tuesday night, with mudflows possible in the area near the high school.
Since the softball team couldn’t practice on their field, they held training sessions on the school’s football field and multipurpose field and in the basketball gym. The absence of a home diamond deprived the squad of proper training in base running, stopping ground balls and batting practice.
Malibu senior firstbaseman Amelia “Pip” Goudzwaard pointed out that the team’s infielders hadn’t trained on a dirt infield.
“Fielding a ball in grass is totally different than dirt,” she said. “Practicing on a football field and playing on a softball field are completely different things.”
Goudzwaard’s teammate, junior catcher Chloe Dyne, said the Sharks’ coaches came up with creative drills to get the team as much practice as possible, but the team is anxious to put their cleats on their home diamond again.
“There is always a familiar and different energy when you are playing at home,” she said.
Malibu’s away-from-home triumphs include wins over Viewpoint, Lawndale and St. Monica. Their losses were to Beverly Hills and Serra.
The Sharks had a losing record in 2018, but Stern said his team has taken a step forward this season and that could lead to postseason play.
“I feel that if we keep on improving, we have a shot at going to CIF [championships] this year,” he said. “Last year, we would have games where we would have seven, eight errors and beat ourselves. This year we are having games with one error. The girls have been playing some beautiful softball.”
Goudzwaard said Malibu has beaten teams that would have blown out the 2018 Sharks.
“Now, we are crushing them,” she said. “We took what we learned last year and brought it into this year.”
The band opened the season with a 24-5 victory over Viewpoint on Feb. 12, but Goudzwaard and her coach said the Sharks’ biggest win was the Feb. 23 triumph over Lawndale. The 13-0 victory featured a Goudzwaard homerun and was Purtell’s first-ever complete-game shutout victory.
“Everyone was involved,” Stern said. “They really came together in that game. It was something nice to see.”
Goudzwaard said the group had a high energy level.
“We played well and had good attitudes,” she said.
Stern said the Sharks have matured since the last season. The coach said several members of the group lost their homes to the Woolsey Fire and that playing softball has added some normalcy to their lives. He said the Sharks are playing loose and fun.
“Maybe it’s the fact the girls have gone through so much in their lives that they aren’t putting on that unnecessary pressure,” Stern said.
Goudzwaard, the hitter of two home runs and bunch of RBIs this season, has a more lightened mindset when she steps in the batter’s box, compared to a year ago.
“Whatever happens, happens,” she said. “If I strike out, I strike out. If I hit a homerun, I hit a homerun.”
Malibu’s top hitter said the team is hitting the ball well with Citrus Coast League competition on the horizon.
“We are making a lot of good contact,” Goudzwaard said. “It will help us with our confidence going into league because we are going to face a lot of good pitchers.”
Stern said Goudzwaard’s hitting guides the Sharks’ offense.
“She is just tearing the cover off ball,” he said.
The coach said junior shortstop Lexi Thomas has batted well and has the go ahead to run the bases however she wants. “She has been very aggressive.”
Stern said Malibu’s defense has also been good. He has given Thomas the freedom to direct the defensive formations in the infield and sophomore centerfielder Emma Sudmann to do the same in the outfield.
Purtell has been a standout pitcher.
“She is mastering the strike zone this year and is able to hit her corners,” Stern said.
The pitcher said Malibu has a chance to make the CIF playoffs.
“I think as soon as we get some practice on our softball field, we will be able to sort out a few bugs, round out the edges and be very well off for the rest of the season,” Purtell said.