WARDEN — When all her teammates had left the field, Jizelle Pruneda stood in her familiar spot.
The circle. The center of the action.
Pruneda’s arm pendulum-ed as she fired balls toward the backstop over and over again. The newly-minted MVP of the South Central Athletic Conference East’s work is still far from over.
“She’s always been a real confident player and you need that as a pitcher,” head coach Wes Richins said. “You want them to be confident in everything... She paid her dues and we got her a lot of innings last year, but she got to see how those older girls worked hard and she’s the last person to leave the field every day.”
Back in Class 1A for the first time since 2014, Warden finished a perfect 14-0 in the SCAC East.
After going up a classification, graduating all-state pitcher Aaliyah Enriquez and a handful of other impact seniors, maybe the league championship was a surprise to some?
Or maybe it wasn’t.
“I’m not going to lie, I saw it (success) coming,” Pruneda said. “It’s nice to know since we started when we were little we’ve been together and we knew that we were going to expect a lot from them. I’m just proud of them.”
Warden received eight all-league selections and, remarkably, five were either freshmen or sophomores. Freshman Aaliyah Escamilla, a three-sport athlete who finished third at Mat Classic XXIX, and sophomore Bailey Whitney, who started for the school’s girls soccer and girls basketball programs, made the first team.
Freshmen Jocelyn Chagoya and Leanne Martinez, sophomore Ashlyn Yamane and junior Amanda Contreras were second team.
“We’re one of the younger teams in the league and that’s a nice feather in our hat to get eight selections,” Richins said. “That kind of goes to show you that the coaches in the league really respected our players and the kids that they played against and so that’s great.”
The lone all-league senior, who joined Escamilla and Whitney on the first team, was catcher Julianna Pruneda. A four-year catcher who happens to be sisters with the ace pitcher is quite the bonus for a young team.
“She just knows that if I’m going to be off she’ll tell me put it in there, put it in and you’ve got your defense and the little ones and they can do it,” Jizelle Pruneda said. “She’s just a lot of help.”
And although Julianna Pruneda might not have had her best season hitting the ball, there’s no one Richins would rather have up with runners in scoring position.
“She’s like Mrs. Clutch,” he said. “She’s been an anchor for us.”
Whether it be at the 1A or 2B level, Warden carries with it three consecutive district tournament championships. Today, 4 p.m., at home against College Place, the drive toward No. 4 begins.
“What’s scary is we haven’t played our best ball yet,” Richins said. “As far as, there’s been games where our top of our lineup is carrying us and there’s games where the bottom of our lineup is carrying us or our defense has to do a little bit more. The good news is that we’re kind of gelling right now.”
MVP: Jizelle Pruneda, Warden
First team: Julianna Pruneda, Warden; Bailey Whitney, Warden; Aaliyah Escamilla, Warden; McDarra von Stein, Royal; Blanca Gutierrez, Wahluke
Second team: Jocelyn Chagoya, Warden; Leanna Martinez, Warden; Amanda Contreras, Warden; Ashlyn Yamane, Warden
Coach of the Year: Wes Richins, Warden