Al LoGiudice has coached softball at St. Francis for a quarter of a century, but he's not so set in his ways that he won't try something new.
After missing the playoffs on the last day of the regular season last year, having his star pitcher transfer and going with six underclassmen on a 13-player roster, LoGiudice figured it was time to lighten up and become less regimented.
"Nobody is talking about playoffs, league titles or section banners," LoGiudice said. "I think in the past we'd overprepare for teams. Now we've taken a little more hands-off approach. We've given (the players) a lot more freedom as far as what they want to do in practice."
It's working pretty well so far.
In the Delta River League opener March 21, the No. 6 Troubadours (9-3) beat defending champion and No. 12 Ponderosa 15-5, topping pretty much the same team that beat St. Francis 1-0 to end the Troubadours' season last spring. That allowed struggling Sheldon to pass St. Francis as the league's No. 3 team in the playoffs, where the Huskies caught fire and won a second consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title.
This season, St. Francis also has pounded No. 5 Pleasant Grove 9-0, No. 14 Christian Brothers 20-2 and No. 17 Cosumnes Oaks 9-2 in nonleague games.
The Troubadours are hitting .393, second only to nationally ranked and unbeaten Vintage (.410) of Napa among Division I section schools.
Pacific-bound catcher-first baseman Bailey O'Mara, a four-year starter, is hitting .693, with five home runs and 18 RBIs. Sophomore leadoff hitter Danika Bailey (.472), junior Amy Marks (.459) and junior Alexis Viramontes (.419) are hitting .400 or better. Senior Molly Babich (.364), junior Alejandra Garcia (.385) and freshman Mel Baccay (.390) and Megan Garren (.370) are also hitting well.
LoGiudice says his hitters are compensating for the departure of hard-throwing pitcher Stephanie Heyward, who transferred to McClatchy but isn't playing softball for the Lions.
The Bee All-Metro second-teamer last season was a combined 23-14 during her freshman and sophomore seasons at St. Francis.
"She's very talented, and I know she's working hard toward her upcoming (American Softball Association) season," LoGiudice said of Heyward, who has verbally committed to Cal Poly.
Marks (4-2, 3.74 ERA) and Garren (5-1, 2.93) have thrown well but aren't strikeout pitchers.
"Our players are very focused," LoGiudice said. "They realize that we have to play solid defense and can't make mental mistakes. And instead of winning games 2-1, we may have to win them 11-10 like we did against Granite Bay (March 23)."
Aguilar makes national team Casa Roble's Ali Aguilar is one of 17 players on the 2013 USA Softball Junior Women's National Team announced Monday.
The USA team, players 19 and younger who are primarily college freshmen, will compete in the International Softball Federation Jr. Women's World Championship (July 1-7) in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Aguilar, a four-year starter and Washington signee, is hitting .511 with 19 RBIs and four home runs for the No. 4 Rams.
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.