On May 17, the Turlock High School softball team saw their season end at the hands of the Whitney High School Wildcats in the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. Since then, the three Turlock Bulldogs have not let the loss bother them as they continued to compete all summer long with their traveling team.
Abbey Harrington, Angie Valenzuela and Ayla Lacerda all played for this summer’s Valley Rage travel fastpitch team, which is based in Atwater. Valenzuela competed with the team for just over four years while Harrington and Lacerda joined the team just under two years ago. While the team had a huge success during that time, 2022 proved to be the pinnacle with this particular trio.
Over the 4th of July weekend, Team Rage finished second in the Triple Crown Softball National Championships in Colorado, which saw 38 teams from across the country compete. In the Nationals, they played 12 games, winning their first 11. The team ended up giving up their last game, their third with a three-header with no breaks to rest or eat in between.
Two weeks later, Rage was determined to grab the top spot when they traveled to Reno to compete in the 18U World Series of Softball, a prestigious tournament made up of 49 top teams from across the country. The Rage went with an impressive 9-0 score which was good enough to win the championship.
“This season has been absolutely amazing,” said Harrington. “I’m new to the team, but since I’ve been with Rage, all I’ve seen is success. Until then, it’s probably the best season we’ve ever had.”
After all the tournaments and games this summer, Rage set a dominant record of 39-5.
Reflecting on the dominant season and championship campaign, Valenzuela agreed with Harrington that 2022 was the most successful. However, she made clear that success with their traveling team is not just about wins, but about the experience and development of local softball players.
“It’s not about wins or losses, it’s about progress,” Valenzuela said. “Every tournament and every match we learn something new. Since I’ve been with this team, these girls are winners.”
Harrington and Valenzuela were seniors last season with Bulldogs, graduating from THS in May. Meanwhile, Lacerda will only enter its second year. The idea of Rage giving her additional opportunities to develop her skills, especially leadership skills, is especially important to her.
“I realize Angie and Abby won’t be here next year, which means I’ll have to get up,” said Lacerda. “It would be hard without them, but here I am getting that extra experience.”
Now high school graduates, Valenzuela and Harrington will not only disappear from their high school and travel ball teams, but will soon leave the area to pursue college careers. Valenzuela has been recruited by Eureka College in Illinois and will be leaving this weekend. Although it will be a little closer, Harrington will be heading to UC Davis in September where she will try to walk with the Aggies softball team.
With the tight-knit group ready to go their separate ways, they make sure they maintain their bond with each other and with their teams.
“We will always be together and be a family,” said Lacerda. “At the same time, I’m excited about the new girls coming in so we can have a bigger family and work hard together. We want to continue everything we’ve done here.”
The trio hope that their success between Turlock High and Valley Rage can inspire future softball players in the area. With little time for players on a school team or high school team, Harrington believes that all players should play without regret, and that the desired results will then come naturally.
“One of the biggest lessons I hope people can learn from us is to be positive and stay connected. Some of my teammates are my go or my death. They are with you for the experience and you just have so much time, so enjoy it. Savor those victories and mistakes and losses,” he said. Harrington: “Don’t hold back because you never know when your last game will be.”
Lacerda and Valenzuela nodded in agreement, well aware that this mindset was the reason the 2022 seasons lasted longer and why they are staying away from the World Softball Championship in high school.