They could have expressed bitterness about the opportunities they had received.
But the three seniors on the Camarillo High softball team never held anything against their younger teammates.
Instead, Kristie Dederick, Jenna King and Natalie Noriega welcomed them with open arms.
They didn’t care about their age. They only cared about winning.
Camarillo’s young guns have come through this season, and have helped put the senior class on the cusp of a storybook ending to their high school careers.
Fourth-seeded Camarillo (25-7) will play La Mirada (21-11) in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 championship game on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine.
t’s Camarillo’s first CIF-SS title-game appearance in 15 years and third overall. The Scorpions captured the Division 5-A title in 1991 and were finalists in 1996.
“Our team doesn’t look at anyone as freshmen or sophomores or juniors or seniors. We look at everyone as equals and people who can contribute in their own way,” Dederick said. “Everyone on this team has a role and we all support each other no matter what because you are only as strong as your weakest link.”
Before this season, Camarillo had endured some lean years by the program’s successful standards.
The Scorpions failed to capture a league title in 2009 and 2010 and failed to advance beyond the second round of playoffs for three straight years.
It was not exactly the type of legacy a senior class would want to brag about.
King was aware of the shortcomings, and felt the urgency to restore the pride in the program before she graduated.
Once King saw the list of players who had made the team after tryouts — a list that included four sophomores and four freshmen — King was filled with optimism.
“I knew their skills and knew how they played and I knew our team would be capable of being league champions,” King said. “I wanted it bad and I realized these younger players would want it just as bad. I knew this team would fight to the end to make the finals no matter what.”
King is like the mother hen of the team. She packs all the nonlicensed players in her Nissan Altima and drives them to team dinners.
“I have grown up with most of these girls because my younger sister is a sophomore,” King said. “I am just so proud of them because they work so hard and are pulling through at such a high level. It’s amazing to me.”
Dederick has been on varsity since her freshman season, but this is the first year she has been a full-time starter.
She became emotional as she was painting the bases before Camarillo’s semifinal home game on Tuesday.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. This is the last time I will be spraying this base,'” she said. “I got really sad because I knew it was my last home game no matter what and it just really sunk in right then and there it was nearing the end.”
It nearly ended one game short of Camarillo’s ultimate goal until freshman Megan Resnik hit a walk-off, pinch-hit home in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Dederick was on base at the time, and started “bawling my eyes out” once the home run cleared the fence.
“Megan made it happen. She really helped the team and I was just so happy because I could really relate to the position she was in,” Dederick said. “I just really wanted her to have that moment of joy knowing she would contribute to the team success.”
Noriega is not a starter, but she doesn’t hold a grudge against any of her younger teammates for their playing time.
“I was a little bummed at first, but I feel like I have to be ready if I am needed,” said Noriega, who moved to Camarillo from Compton in the seventh grade. “I stay pumped in the dugout the whole game and am always cheering on my girls and making sure they are pumped. I am never down on myself, and I am always thinking today is going to be the chance I get to play or to hit or to run.”
Camarillo coach Jack Willard realizes how essential chemistry is to a team’s success. He knows infighting and jealousy can bring a team down faster than a great opposing pitcher.
“Our seniors have accepted the younger players and made them feel comfortable, which has been a tremendous help,” Willard said. “Right away they made sure they felt like they were a part of the team without a doubt. They have been great.”
As Dederick, King and Noriega prepare to take the field for the last time in a Camarillo uniform, they know the program has a bright future.
They will be passing the torch to a talented group with the potential to make many more championship appearances.
“I am just so happy we could get this far in my senior year,” King said. “It’s something you will always remember and it’s great to make a lasting impression before you leave.”