North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
Neeshaa Garcia has put a lot of work into making herself a better softball player, and the investment seems to be paying off.
The Eagle Point senior went from mostly playing for the junior varsity squad last season to now making a varsity impact as one of the Eagles' top hitters. She leads the team with four home runs and is second in batting average (.438) and RBIs (12). The 5-foot-3 designated player and infielder credits some of her improvement to a summer team that she participated on and also to the new high school coach, Frank Marksman.
Absorbing advice from her mentors — including her mom, a former Eagle Point standout — Garcia tinkered a bit with her approach at the plate. She says she became more patient and judicious after putting the knowledge she gained into action. The results speak for themselves: Garcia owns a team-best .875 slugging percentage with 14 hits and 12 runs scored for Eagle Point, which stands at 12-7 overall and 2-1 in the two-team Class 5A Southern Oregon Hybrid.
Other team leaders include freshman pitcher/infielder Teanna Gonsalves (19 hits), senior pitcher/infielder McKenzie Merrill (13 RBIs), junior outfielder Emily Jeffries (21 runs) and junior catcher/outfielder Brianna Shopp (.455 batting average).
"She just has a very good swing," Marksman says. "When she puts that on the ball she hits it hard."
The 17-year-old Garcia played for Southern Oregon University head coach Kim Fritts and the Mizuno All-American team over the summer. The squad, which featured local players, traveled to tournaments around Oregon and in Nevada and California.
Garcia says the experience was beneficial.
"They gave us so much good information and we learned something new every day," Garcia says. "Every day was a lesson."
Garcia says that Fritts and her staff helped her improve her positioning and triggering time. The lessons carried over to the spring.
"I'd take a whole team of girls like her," Marksman says.
Garcia plays as a designated player or at first or third base.
"She is very positive (about playing as a DP)," says Marksman, a native Californian who coached in the Sacramento area for 20 years before coming to Eagle Point. "She is like, 'OK, fine, whatever I can do to help the team.'"
In the second of two contests against Ashland on April 13, Garcia was 3-for-5 with two home runs, four RBIs and three runs. In Game 1, she was 3-for-3 with an RBI.
In a victory over Grants Pass on April 6, she crushed a two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning and the Eagles posted four more runs in the seventh to force an extra inning. Eagle Point went on to win, 7-6.
The shot against the Cavers was a big confidence booster, Garcia says.
"I had struck out the time before I was up and I was determined I wasn't going to strike out again," she says. "That was the (home run) that built my confidence with just everything. It just let me know that I can go in the box and do my job and do it how I want to do it."
Garcia, who began playing when she was 5, also belted a three-run shot in a 9-3 triumph over Hidden Valley on March 26.
Watching from the stands with pride has been Mariana Garcia, who starred for the Eagles at center field before graduating in 1995.
"Usually if I've had a good game, we come home and talk about it for 45 minutes and see what my mom saw," Garcia says. "If it's not such a good game, we wait a little bit."
Garcia's commitment to bettering herself was exemplified last week. She passed on a senior trip so that she could practice instead. Awaiting her at the ballpark was a happy Marksman, who moved to the Rogue Valley to work as a software expert for Dogs for the Deaf. The 61-year-old is a former defensive tackle at Eastern Washington who has four grown-up daughters who played. He most recently led Laguna Creek High in Elk Grove.
"Sometime in early February I sent out a couple emails saying, 'Hey, I want to get back in the game, anybody looking for help?'" says Marksman, who also umpired for 15 years. "Right place, right time."
Garcia, who hopes to study nursing, says she is glad Marksman got the job.
"I really like him," she says. "I loved all my past few coaches. The last three years I've had a different coach every year. He has the attitude of staying. Our freshman class has such talent and it will be so good for them to have that stability. He showed me that there are coaches out there who will stay and help."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org