Last try: Valencia’s Lee hopes for final return

first_imgInstead, she opted for senior Courtney Baughman, who had been dependable but had pitched just once in 19 days preceding the final; Taylor, a sophomore, entered with a streak of 51 consecutive scoreless innings and had established herself as perhaps California’s top underclassman. Baughman lasted about five minutes, surrendering a two-run lead on two singles and a sacrifice combined with a two-base error. Taylor then took over and pitched seven scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts but Valencia never rallied. After the game, Lee broke down. She’s had nearly a year to gain some perspective on the loss and swears she has no regrets. “I’ve received a lot of support from other coaches,” she said. Nevertheless, it was a long summer. Valencia is back, apparently as strong as ever, and the countdown has begun because Royal is undefeated and is ranked No. 1 in the state – with Valencia No. 7. “Everyone always second-guesses when you lose and wonders what would happen if we did this or we did that,” Taylor said. “But coach Lee made the right decision. You can second-guess all you want but that loss was really hard for her. Will we get back? That’s a goal and something to focus on.” The real truth is Lee, who’s also a health teacher, has always been more concerned with developing her team as people than as players. Through her 18-year career, the victories, however triumphant, are an afterthought, as are the losses, however disappointing. “The reason I first got involved with coaching is because I want to be a role model,” she said. “There needs to be more female role models for these kids, especially coaches. Have you ever counted how many more male coaches there are than female coaches? The things I teach the kids I hope will last forever _ even though it may take them 10 years to realize it.” Most former players have liked Lee. Some haven’t, but few hard-driven coaches exist in today’s world without detractors. “Girls are different than boys. They need to feel good to play good,” Lee said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned over the years. If your best player just broke up with her boyfriend, you’re not going to get much out of her that day. I’ve tried to keep things as positive as possible, and maybe that’s one reason we’ve been so successful.” Longtime assistant Joe Robinson retired two years ago after undergoing hip-replacement surgery. He’s hobbled back for one final season this year to be with Lee during her swan song. “I love her. That’s why I came back to help again,” Robinson said. “She needed an extra hand, and I support her 100 percent. We enjoy working together.” And if Lee is a bit shy about making a Joe Namath-style prediction, Robinson isn’t. “Things were kind of set up last year, so I’m sure it’s the goal to get to the final – and win it,” he said. “Does a winner have to be a little lucky? Of course. But you also make your own luck, and we’ve got a lot going for us.” A teacher, a coach and a member of the Southern Section advisory committee, Lee’s day starts at 5:30 a.m. and lasts well into the darkness of night. It’s been that way for a long time, and Lee is firm in her decision to step down while her husband and children, Austin, 11, and Mason, 7, need her the most. She nearly retired last year but changed her mind after losing in the final. Lee needed one last season to go for the gold, and here it is. “When it’s over, I think I’ll kind of wonder, `What am I going to do now?’ I just haven’t given that much thought,” she said. For sure, Lee finally will be able to breath easy. Will there be a smile reflecting on a massive championship trophy? That remains to be seen.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! VALENCIA – Among the Foothill League’s most successful coaches in any sport, Donna Lee still has much to accomplish, but not much time to do so. The Valencia High softball coach has announced her pending retirement, yet there’s a massive dose of unfinished business: The 43-year-old’s streak of five consecutive league titles has yet to lead to Southern Section championship. Valencia came closest last season, losing 2-0 to Royal of Simi Valley in the Div. I championship game in Irvine. With dominant pitcher Jordan Taylor returning, Valencia figures to be an odds-on favorite to return to the final – the Vikings are No. 1 in the Southern Section rankings – and there’s no question the ultracompetitive Lee wants to go out a winner. Oh, she’ll continue to say all the right things about taking it one game at a time, and she’ll continue to remind all who will listen of the odd twists of fortune always associated with the down-to-the-wire circumstances of high school softball. But don’t believe for a second Lee doesn’t have June 3 circled on her calendar – the date of this year’s title game. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl eventFour weeks remain in the regular season, but that’s pretty much a technicality, as Valencia (14-2) has little to prove after outscoring opponents 77-9 while playing an extremely challenging schedule. And with Taylor, who posts a 0.19 ERA and is on pace for 400strikeouts, expected to start every game from here on in, the chances of Valencia losing another game – at least through the end of the regular season and first few rounds of the playoffs – are considerably slim. Since the beginning of last season, Valencia has advanced to the final of five of six tournaments (including the Southern Section playoffs), so there’s nothing unfair about expecting greatness. And there’s not a more vociferous hater of a lost game than Lee, so the drama already is in place for a grand finale. “We would like to be there & but I don’t want to second-guess myself,” Lee said. “A lot of things have to come together and it takes a lot of support. No matter what, you have to play as a team, and if the team cracks &” Eleven months ago, Lee unwittingly became the story in the loss to Royal when she decided not to start Taylor in the championship. last_img

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