Orange Coast College’s softball team saw out a 3-1 victory in its home opener against the San Bernardino Valley College Wolverines Wednesday evening.
The victory was led by freshman pitcher Jaelyn Operana who not only held command of the game from the circle, pitching all seven innings keeping SBVC’s girls at arm’s length, but also came up with a triple and a run for the Pirates.
“She is one of those rare players that’s coming through our program,” head coach Jodie Legaspi-Kiaha said after the game. “You’re going to see great things from her this season.”
Operana’s soaring triple came from the top of the line-up in the first inning in which the Pirates smelled blood. Freshman Ally Cisneros and sophomore Janae Gomez continued the Wolverine dissection with two more hits in quick succession to give a 2-0 advantage to OCC.
This win surely sets a marker for what this team is capable of throughout the rest of the season. Although making it to conference playoffs for the first time in 24 years last season, the OCC softball program has not managed an overall winning record in nearly a decade.
“We’ve been building this program since I’ve been here,” Legaspi-Kiaha said. “Obviously we want to come out here and want to win.”
While it is largely accepted as one of the more competitive conferences in the state with the Orange Empire Conference winning 311 state championships in the last 20 years, Legaspi-Kiaha doesn’t focus entirely on the titles.
“There is a ton of talent around but what’s most important is that we preserve our culture. We also want our kids to have a degree of character,” Legaspi-Kiaha said. “We want them to do well in the classroom and a winning season is great, but not at the cost of us not being able to get our grades and making good decisions off the field.”
Wednesday’s game was played in the wake of Sunday’s tragic helicopter accident, which killed OCC’s head baseball coach John Altobelli and his family. The heartbreaking event resonated throughout the whole school, especially through the Athletics department.
“I think we had a fire underneath us after the event of Coach Altobelli and his family,” Legaspi-Kiaha said. “We were really playing for a reason.”
Determined to fight for a win in the memory of Altobelli, the women also found a bit of normalcy in their lives that has surely been interrupted by the tragedy.
“There’s something normal about coming to a game,” Legaspi-Kiaha said.
The game was normal. The team made it look easy, routine and clinical. What, on the surface, was a commanding season-opening win, also served as a tribute to Altobelli and the characteristics he built and strived for throughout the entire school.