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Girls of summer

May 29, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

For the past five years, Jenny Ramirez and Maria Hansen-Perez have known nothing but top-caliber fast-pitch softball, having competed together on the Central Union High and Imperial Valley College softball teams.

The pair helped IVC to its best finish under head coach Jill Lerno, leading the Arabs to third place in the Pacific Coast Conference.

When the two decided to step onto the softball diamond at Stark Field in El Centro as members of the Drifters softball team of the Brawley Recreation Department's summer women's softball league, needless to say they seemed a bit out of place.

While many think of rec softball as being more laid back, Ramirez and Hansen-Perez have found out firsthand this women's league is as intense as high school or junior college ball.


"I think that's a big misconception. People think that it is pretty non-competitive, but, for instance, with this team, whenever they play they feel they have everything to lose," said the 18-year-old Hansen-Perez, a freshman pitching ace at IVC this year.

The team of which Hansen-Perez speaks is the Drifters, an El Centro-based squad that has won the rec league championship the last three seasons.

"If you're going to be playing out here with this team, you better be playing like you're the best," said Hansen-Perez.

While softball is fairly universal, Hansen-Perez and Ramirez say they've had to adjust to fairly big differences between the women's league and IVC ball.

The most obvious is pitching style. The women's league is slow-pitch, lobbed-style, with balls coming across the plate at less than 5 mph. At the junior college level pitches range anywhere from 50-65 mph.

"It's hard to adjust to the pitching. At first when you go out there you're used to fast-pitch. Then they lob that ball with that big arch under it and it's just different," said the 18-year-old Ramirez. "But once you get used to it you know what to expect. In fast-pitch you have to deal with a pitcher throwing four or five different pitches. Here there's only one you have to look for. But once you get used to it you're fine."

For Ramirez, IVC's centerfielder, playing the outfield usually means worrying about two other players. Now she has to contend with a fourth called a rover. She said her first time on the field playing with a rover was "weird" and took some getting used to.

After playing a full season under Lerno, the two now have the opportunity to play alongside their coach on the Drifters.

"Instead of looking at her as coach when we're out here, she's just Jill. She's just one of the players," said Hansen-Perez.

At 37, Lerno has been playing in the women's league for 19 years and has won league championships the last 18 seasons as a member of the Drifters and, before that, Charlie's Angels.

"I have a tendency to want to coach them and tell them what to do when they're playing because that's something that I'm used to," said Lerno. "But I really enjoy playing with them. … Out here it's more relaxed, and instead of being their coach I'm just one of the players, like them."

Even though there is a league championship to be won and winning is important to all the players in the 10-team league, the main reason they do it is fun.

The women's league kicks off June 11 at Abe Gonzalez and Hinojosa parks in Brawley with games starting at 7 and 8:30 p.m.

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