It hasn’t been the most ideal start for San Lorenzo Valley High senior Bella Reynolds, who was nearly facing a season-ending injury that would’ve put a damper on a brilliant career with the Cougars softball team.
The standout shortstop managed to dodge a bullet after she was told her right thumb didn’t need any slicing but instead had to pay the small price of sitting out until it fully healed.
“That thought really weighed heavy on my heart,” she said. “I’m just happy to be in this uniform, be out here ready to play again.”
Reynolds looked sharper than a surgical blade for SLV in a 12-2 victory over rival Scotts Valley in Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League action on Monday.
With the win, the Cougars remain unbeaten in league play at 3-0 and were hoping to keep their unblemished record intact against Santa Cruz on Wednesday.
But just like Reynolds, the Cougars also got off to a rough start after three of their games and a handful of practices were called off due to ongoing atmospheric river storms throughout California.
During the downtime they were either in the batting cages, at the football field or in the gym working toward the challenging season that lies ahead.
The reigning SCCAL co-champion Cougars know they have a bullseye on their backs, yet Reynolds said they’re hungrier than ever to outright win the league crown. They finished with a 17-8 overall record and they went 10-2 in league play in 2022.
Those standing in the way include Aptos, Harbor, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and reigning co-champion Soquel, which lost to the Cougars twice last season.
“We’re gonna do everything in our power to stay focused, stay on top of it, try not to take days off and move forward,” Reynolds said.
SLV juniors Oliva Renouf and Alyssa Struthers have been a pair of big-time power hitters for the Cougars, while senior Amelia Sizemore continues to roll from last season’s brilliant performance in the circle as the league’s reigning top pitcher.
Reynolds is also impressed with all of the underclassmen that have shown promise, including freshman Sophia Sarmiento, who has shown up to practice every day and has a work ethic that is through the roof.
“We have a great squad, a lot of new faces, young players, but they’re such good ball players that they look like seniors,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds mentioned they all come from different backgrounds by playing on travel teams and they’ve learned a lot about the game.
“I’m learning new stuff every single day about what I can do better,” she said.
There’s also a stronger sense of camaraderie and the exchanging of ideas behind the game, which Reynolds believes is important for them moving forward. She said they also try to implement how to improve and everyone works harder in doing so.
“This year is just good chemistry,” she said. “Everyone seems to be getting along. It’s great, it’s fun.”
SLV manager Mark Brown said this is a very different team, yet they’re starting to really gel and understand their role. He mentioned the weather has been tough for the players who have missed a lot of practice and some games.
“It was good to see them out here, play good defense and then hit the ball well,” Brown said.
It was Reynolds’ first game in league play since she suffered the thumb injury during the basketball season, which occurred the day before she was set to return for softball.
At one point she was told surgery was required and it would’ve shut her down for the season.
Brown was bummed and frustrated about the thumb injury, yet they’ve been taking the rehab process slow and he’s hopeful Reynolds can finish strong in the second half of the season.
The three seniors in Reynolds, Sizemore and Anaya Sutcliffe have become mentors and great leaders on a team that is sophomore and freshman heavy.
“It’s a team that’s maturing and I like to see that,” Brown said.
SLV sophomore Angie Fulkerson—who missed significant time due to a leg injury she suffered late last season—is another one of those key contributing underclassmen.
“I just want to come back strong, be a good hitter and be a team leader, too, as much as I can even though I’m a sophomore,” she said.
Fulkerson along with Reynolds and Sizemore had to transition from the basketball season, which was extended after the Cougars went on a tremendous run in the Central Coast Section Division IV playoffs.
Fulkerson said it cut into the softball season and it became a little inconvenient, yet she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else.
“It didn’t affect it too much, not as much as I thought and being able to play into CCS was really cool,” she said. “I wouldn’t give up that chance.”
Fulkerson’s goal from here on out is to continue her role as a team leader and step up her game before heading into the summer travel ball season where college recruits start to appear.
Brown said the goal for him is to always focus on the next game and not to overlook any opponent, especially those who compete in the challenging SCCAL.
“There’s always the up and coming teams that are working hard and they’re probably working harder than we can,” he said. “We find ourselves sometimes we can sit back a little bit, but there’s no sitting back.”
SLV (6-2, 3-0) will play at Harbor in Santa Cruz on Friday at 4:30pm.