How ready are they? Way ready! So ready in fact that two of their seniors volunteered to spend hours raking a muddy softball field this week, in the attempt to avoid the cancellation of Friday’s scheduled scrimmage against San Benito.

Truly, Sarina Rios and Mariah Ozuna, who have seen it all in their four years at EHS, were so geeked up to play, they were willing to become part of the maintenance crew. Even a potential postponement of any diamond action flat riles them.

“We are so fired up for this season, because last year was so disappointing,” said the slugging first baseman Rios, whose team came within one game of the playoffs before a loss in the regular-season finale to ancient rival North. “It was heartbreaking, I’m not going to lie. We just cried and cried after coming so close. And we told ourselves that it wasn’t going to happen to us again!”

She and Ozuna, an early signee for college softball at a military institute in Alabama, are two of the leading lights of a program that is primed to make a splash on the District 31-5A scene in 2010, after being left out of the playoffs by a nose two years running. The Lady Bobcat seniors know that this is their last chance and that the skills and maturity they’ve spent four years honing at the varsity level have to pay off now.

“This is not even the same team we had when we got here,” Rios said, and Ozuna agreed. “We’ve got the team to do it this year, with speed, hitting, everything…now it’s just up to us to perform.”

So it is that Coach Jesse Banda leads the EHS nine onto the field for the latest campaign, with all its starters back and some promising newcomers ready to contribute right away. With Rios at first and Ozuna at second forming a formidable right side, the unit is looking great so far. Hard-hitting shortstop Anyssa Gonzalez and smooth little third sacker Tori DeLeon complete the defense in the inner garden, and both are seasoned vets though just sophomores.

Outfielders Kassy Rodriguez, Claudia Salinas and Leeanne Hinojosa cover a ton of ground for the club and can all hit, with the soph Rodriguez coming off a super freshman season. Ozuna adds that with four solid pitchers on the roster, this time around EHS should not have any weaknesses.

And Banda is excited to see 9th-grader Sammy Arciga, the talk of camp in the early going, attack 31-5A hitters. The hard-throwing newbie will team with another first-timer, Myranda Hinojosa, as those two seek to keep their winning ways going on the big stage. Before moving up to the varsity they played together on a 14-year-old all-star team that was a national tournament success.

“Those two are really going to solidify our pitching, which at times was iffy last season,’ Banda said, adding that Hinojosa already has a terrific changeup and can bring it when she needs to; she’ll get relief from sister Leeanne at times, and maybe Rios. “Having good pitching really changes a game and this year we hope that those new girls can come in and do the job for us. I think they can.”

Behind the plate the Lady ‘Cats have an experienced platoon duo in Deidre Tafolla and Stephanie Salinas, each of whom is adept at managing hurlers and getting timely base hits.

Banda and his staff have had the kids working on bunting, in order to take advantage of excellent team speed. He says that if they can’t hit you, they’ll bunt you, putting pressure on opposing defenses with that oft-forgotten weapon.

The squad is loaded and intensely looking forward to the wars. The coach is feeling pretty good about 2010 as well.

“I think this program is turning the corner,” he noted. “We have a lot of talent that will be here for awhile, and some seniors who are hungry to win.”

It may come down to two matches against old foe North, just like last year. One team had to stay home in 2009 at season’s climax and it was EHS, by a run. This time around, Rios and Ozuna plan on turning the tables.

“Last year those were some great games we played, both teams really gave the fans a show,” Rios said of the Coog-‘Cat brawls.

The peppery Ozuna, setting the table for the next stage of drama to come, added:

“And this year it’s a showdown!”

NOTES: The ‘Cats were indeed rained out against San Benito Saturday but hoped to get a workout in against Rivera Monday. The regular season starts next week.