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Ton of talent awaits Cantu’s arrival as head coach

February 4, 2019

On the surface, it may seem like a new era is dawning for the highly-respected Deer Park High School girls fastpitch softball program, but it really isn’t.

Longtime head coach Carrie Austgen may have stepped aside, but her replacement is the first person Austgen hired when she came aboard almost a decade ago.

Errica Cantu, who competed against Austgen when she played at Lon Morris Junior College and UT-Tyler, has been elevated from her longtime varsity assistant’s job to take the reins of the Lady Deer program. Austgen was San Jacinto College’s head coach at the time Cantu was playing collegiately.

Another Deer Park graduate from the early 2000s who is now a head coach, Cantu, a 2002 graduate, expects nothing will change between the foul lines.

“This group has a ton of talent. As juniors, they led our team last year. We have a veteran infield. Three of our infielders are seniors. All four of our seniors have lettered since they were freshmen. We have a lot of experience,” Cantu said.

The four seniors - Sara Vanderford, Amaya Montano, Jasie Roberts and K.K. Morado - will be the cornerstone to the Deer’s hopes of not only repeating as district champions but to perhaps get the club past the Area round where the team was swept by Brazoswood last May, courtesy of 7-5 and 3-2 setbacks.

Deer Park hasn’t lost a district game since the 2015 season but now they’re in arguably a tougher district, but one the program has competed in before with the exception of C.E. King and Beaumont United.

“We’re really relying on them to steer the ship in the right direction. They’re really a good group of girls,” Cantu said of the foursome.

That veteran infield will likely feature Vanderford at second base, Montano at shortstop and Morado at third base, the three most critical infield positions.

Roberts could be a two-pronged attribute with the glove. She’ll likely play catcher and patrol in the outfield.

The defense, hopes the coaching staff, will be stout but it all starts in the pitching circle. There’s no household names right now among the throwers, but those that will be pitching will all be undergraduates.

The staff is likely to be led by junior Julia York, who saw the greatest amount of innings in the circle last spring.

“Julia’s a really powerful pitcher. Her best pitches are probably her screw ball and curveball but she’s got a lot of variety,” Cantu said.

Sophomore Hannah Benavides saw action in the circle sparingly last year. Those two will be complimented by the arrival of two new faces in sophomore Addison Lehew and freshman Madison Applebe.

Other notable names who are returning will be junior Courtney Plocheck and sophomore Haidyn Hardcastle, who will patrol in the outfield and relieve Morado at third. Hardcastle ignored her freshman status last spring and became a pretty prominent player. Plocheck is a three-year letterman and her importance to the team has likely doubled this spring.

Look for the arrival of Tabatha Bailey, one of the JV’s top hitters last year, to earn a varsity spot.

Also slated for varsity roster spots is the group of Tabitha Burnett, Vicki Viaclovsky, Emily Land, Ali Alcantar, Kaurie Winters and Alaina Cortez. With the exception of Viaclovsky, the group are three-year letterwinners.

Cantu’s first varsity assistant will be Katie Schaefer, who was Beaumont West Brook High School’s head coach from 2012 through the 2017 seasons. She will be the only non-Deer Park High School graduate on the staff.

Megan Ullmann, Caitlyn Plocheck and Gracie Aguirre round out the rest of the staff.

Plocheck was a member of the 2012 state championship team, manufacturing an 8-1 record in the pitching circle and batting .508 going into the state tournament. She was also on the 2013 state team that fell to Kingwood in the 5A semifinals.

NOTES: Deer Park’s season opener arrives Feb. 12 at Pearland Dawson High School. Game time is 6:30 p.m. The team’s home opener won’t be until the arrival of district. On March 8, the team hosts La Porte for Alumni Night. Game time is 6.

ravery@hcnonline.com

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