The new girls softball coach at Santa Barbara High used to run in the fast lane of the fastpitch game.
Phil Hiromerides gained All-World Softball recognition not long after roaming centerfield for the 1983 Dos Pueblos High baseball team. His potent bat earned the respect of national team pitchers from Canada to Mexico, and New Zealand back to Team USA.
He won Amateur Softball Association All-America honors three times and the ASA national batting championship in 2000 when he hit an astounding .600.
It amazed fellow All-American Tony Peeples enough to say, “He is probably the most pure hitter that I have ever played with or against in this game.”
None of his hits loomed larger than his walk-off, run-scoring double which won the 2002 ASA “A” National Championship for Fresno’s Team Lyons.
Hiromerides, whose father is from the island of Cyprus, was dubbed “The Greek God of Hitting” by Mark Bennett, one of the top fast-pitch hurlers of that era.
But you might think he set himself up as a Greek tragedy when he agreed to coach the Dons. Santa Barbara High hasn’t won a Channel League championship since 1992, hasn’t qualified for the CIF-Southern Section playoffs since 1999, and hasn’t won even one league game since 2012.
“I’ve looked over the records of the past 10 years and, yeah, it’s not pretty,” Hiromerides told Noozhawk. “But I took the Santa Barbara job as a challenge.”
And after watching his young Dons soak in his tutelage the last few weeks, he feels more confident than ever that “this is really where I’m supposed to be.”
That wouldn’t surprise his old Team Lyons coach, Giles Madruga, who had his own nickname for Hiromerides. He called him “Buddha” for how he liked to share his hitting philosophy with other softball players.
Hiromerides began coaching men’s fastpitch himself when his “body wore out,” guiding the Taft Buzzards for several years.
A local mechanic who began his playing career with such South Coast teams as Oldenkamp’s and Hydrex Pest Control, Hiromerides did return to his roots for a while to play for Clyde Bennett’s Santa Barbara FOG (Fastpitch Old Guys). He won senior All-America honors while leading the team to a runner-up finish at the 2009 North American Fastpitch Association Nationals.
Coaching Girls Softball
But soon he was back in the dugout, coaching his daughter in the Goleta Valley Girls Softball Association. He even returned to his alma mater to coach the Dos Pueblos junior varsity in 2019.
“Traveling and playing that level ball, you really get banged up,” he said. “But I really enjoy coaching. I really do. I get to show the girls my experience and show them some of the stuff I’ve learned over the years playing ball.”
The Dons, 1-3 on the young season, have already profited from the wisdom of their Greek Buddha.
“I sat down with them at the first day of practice and asked, ‘What’s the No. 1 problem here?’” he recalled. “They all said the same thing. There was no chemistry. Nothing.
“People were talking bad about this and that. Some girls got on social media and posted negative things. I just said, ‘All that has to stop.’”
The turnaround has been as quick as one of Hiromerides’ romps around the bases during the glory days.
“The chemistry has been really good,” he said. “We have a young team but the numbers are pretty good. The high school has been backing me up, too.
“I told them, ‘This is what I need,’ and they’ve given me everything I’ve requested. I have the support from the school because I think they really want to build this up, too.”
The Dons were shut out by undefeated Lompoc, the No. 5 team in the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 4 poll, in Friday’s Channel League opener. But Hiromerides knows there are challenges no matter where you turn in the tough Channel League.
Mixing with Tough Company
Four of the other five teams have played for a CIF championship during the last 10 full seasons. Dos Pueblos won a title in 2011, as did Lompoc in 2016. Both San Marcos and Santa Ynez played in the CIF finals in 2017, and San Marcos returned there in 2018. The Royals got as far as last year’s semifinals.
Thinking about the opener against Lompoc, Hiromerides admitted, “kept me up at night.”
“I’ve got my work cut out for me, man,” he added with a laugh. “But my expectations are just to go a game at a time. The goal is really just to start establishing better numbers … So far, we’ve been doing a pretty good job with that.
“It’s a really slow process, but maybe Santa Barbara will become the Cinderella story pretty soon.”
Softball at the school has been hamstrung by the lack of any feeder programs. Dos Pueblos and San Marcos have received steady streams of talent from the long-established GVGSA league and the travel-ball teams it’s spawned.
One of Hiromerides’ friends, however, has started a 9-and-under travel program for girls in Santa Barbara High’s school district.
“They’re even going to wear the same color uniforms as Santa Barbara High,” he said. “Hopefully that’ll help, getting them started young. There was nothing going on down here for girls softball, but we’re starting to get that ball rolling.”
The Wonder Years of Dons’ Softball
There is precedence. During its glory days, Santa Barbara High had its own club softball pipelines such as the Santa Barbara Whoppers. Twins Heather and Shannon Frowiss, along with other stars such as Janelle Thompson and Kari Cordero, led them to high school titles during the late 1980s.
Pitcher Erin Corlett and shortstop Denise Holguin, who played for a Goleta Syndicate team that won a 16U ASA State championship, captured the Channel League title for the Dons two years later.
Their last CIF playoff team of 1999 also featured a travel-ball battery of pitcher Jennifer Watson and catcher Olivia Campa.
Hiromerides said the athletic talent is still there at the high school. Catcher Amanda Holguin, Denise Holguin’s niece, earned All-Channel League second-team honors last year as a freshman. Ariyani Muñoz, a highly regarded sophomore transfer from the San Bernardino area, is also “a very talented player who will be a big part of our team when she becomes eligible.”
“Amanda right now is my top girl,” he said. “She’s hitting the ball hard and doing very well. The same with Alina Magdalano. She’s my second baseman and leadoff batter, and she’s just crushing the ball.
“It’s a very young team. Most of my team are sophomores and freshmen. From what I see, they’re actually pretty good. I’m hoping things start really going so we can spread the word.”
It all begins with pitching, and the prospects are promising there, as well.
“I have a freshman, Vienna Mochi, who throws pretty hard,” Hiromerides said. “She still has to learn a few pitches and how to hit the corners, hit the spots, but she has ability.”
Freshman Madison Benedict and sophomore Daylon Donati, the daughter of former Bishop Diego and Fresno State football quarterback Rich Donati, could also “make a future impact” in the pitcher’s circle.
“I’m fully committed to this,” Hiromerides said. “I want to go for the ride and see where we can take it.”
Rest of the South Coast
Bishop Diego — The Cardinals, who split their two nonconference games with Santa Barbara earlier this month, return All-Tri Valley Leaguers Lily Simolon in centerfield, Tessa Johansen at first base, and Yvette Rosales. But they are without pitcher Laura Weeks, an all-leaguer as a freshman, who is out for the season with an injury. Bishop will rely on the senior battery of pitcher Amy Mancinelli and catcher Jenna Hayes. Her sister, freshman Chelsea Hayes, has already stepped into the shortstop position.
“We have a great freshman class who’ve all made an impact on the program even though some haven’t even participated in a game yet,” said coach MeLinda Matsumoto, a former pitcher at UC Santa Barbara. The missing freshmen — pitcher Madeline Ferries, Anna Fittipaldi and Tara Gregson — have all been playing for Bishop’s CIF-SS Division 7 championship soccer team.
Carpinteria — It all starts in the circle for Carpinteria with pitcher Madison Mora. The senior righthander, a first-team All-Citrus League pick last year, stepped right out of the pool of the Warriors’ conference championship water polo team to strike out 10 Santa Barbara High batters in the Warriors’ home opener. She’s been recruited to play next year for Bloomfield College, an NCAA Division II university in New Jersey. Sophomore catcher Amarisse Camargo, one of the basketball team’s top players, swings a big bat, having driven in six runs with two singles and a home run against Santa Barbara during Carpinteria’s opening week.
Dos Pueblos — The Chargers, who dropped the rubber match to cross-town rival San Marcos in last year’s Channel League championship showdown, have already defeated the Royals twice — once in Friday’s conference opener, and again on Saturday in Simi Valley’s Manlet Tournament. DP has a lot of experience with three returning all-leaguers, which includes sophomore pitcher Georgia Wilson. Her junior catcher, Riley Monroe, and fellow junior Bella Nuno were also first-team picks last year. Cousins Jessica Reveles, a senior, and Mia Reveles, a junior, are also back after making last year’s all-league second team. Mackenzie Ensign, a first baseman who missed last season with a broken finger, has swung one of the Chargers’ hottest bats through the early part of the season.
San Marcos — The Royals graduated pitcher Allie Fryklund, the Channel League Player of the Year, but return nearly everyone else from last year’s CIF-SS Division 5 semifinalist team. Leading the way is shortstop Caitlyn Early, who received All-CIF honors as a freshman. Three other all-league first-teamers are back: junior catcher Gigi Gritt, sophomore third baseman Tiana Monaghan, and senior outfielder Izabella Velasquez. Sophomore outfielders Emma Foster, and Kamilah Morales, as well as senior first baseman Cassandra Perez, return after earning second-team honors. Freshman Kate Guerra, who pitched the GVGSA 14U Gold All-Stars to a second-place finish at the ASA Western Nationals, and junior Gracie Verdugo, a transfer from Carpinteria, have replaced Fryklund in the pitcher’s circle.
“Kate locates her pitches well, does an outstanding job fielding her position and shows great poise in the circle,” coach Jeff Swann said. “Gracie was a welcome surprise to our program with her family relocating to Santa Barbara … She brings tremendous experience to our team having played travel ball for several years, and is an enthusiastic and devoted teammate and leader.”
— Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook. The opinions expressed are his own.