Capuchino High grad Michele Pilster and Hillsdale grad Kaylin Stewart were bitter rivals in high school. They've since become the best of friends. They are even attending the same school next year, as both will continue their careers at Lindenwood University, a Division II school in Missouri.
Pilster, a sophomore pitcher for the College of San Mateo softball team, knows she's got a good infield behind her as the Bulldogs look to repeat as Coast Conference North Division champions as the season gets underway Saturday with a doubleheader at Merced College.
Stewart held down the second base position last year and makes the switch to shortstop this season. She hit .315 over 44 games and stole 14 bases, among the top seven in the conference last year.
Pilster led the conference with a 1.43 ERA and 29 wins (against five losses) in a conference best 190 2/3 innings. She also led the Coast with 185 strikeouts and was second with 22 complete games.
Both players are among the nine CSM returners who look to make another run to the state playoffs after compiling a 39-6 record.
CSM led the conference in pitching with a team ERA of 1.68. Notre Dame High grad Amelia Shales finished finished to Pilster among the individual leaders, compiling a 7-1 record in 19 games, eight starts.
Stewart helped the Bulldogs finish second in the conference with a team batting average of .351. She was one of eight CSM players who hit better than .300. Five of them are back. Joining Stewart are Carlmont grad Jenn Davidson (.446, 5th in the conference), Capuchino grad Jamie Navarro (.414, 7th, with seven home runs and 36 RBI), Selina Rodriguez (.388, 16 stolen bases) and Mikayla Conlin (.361, five homers, 36 RBI).
Hillsdale grad Kristin Petrini and Katie Tam also return, looking for the school's first back-to-back conference championships under coach Nicole Borg.
"Our expectations are to win the conference championship," Borg said. "That's the number one goal. The coaching staff (which includes Aragon High grad Denise Fabris, who was on Fresno State's national championship team in the 80s) talks every day about what it takes. The program has been great since Tom Martinez started it to now. I never want this program to have a losing season or come in second."
Pilster has worked with Borg, who played for Tennessee, since she was 12 years old and she's known Navarro (CSM's catcher) "since I can remember."
Pilster was able to make the transition to CSM from high school easier as a result. She still needed to adjust to the level of play though.
"In high school you just played," Pilster said. "Here it was the exact opposite of the spectrum. You work so much harder and you have to think about fundamentals all the time."
Pilster pitches year around, taking a week or two off after the season, to make sure her arm remains in working condition and she has her pitches in order.
Four freshmen join the Bulldogs this year and will be expected to contribute right away. None of them have been a bigger surprise than Terra Nova High grad Talisa Frame, who will assume second base duties.
"She's nonchalant and very quiet," Borg said. "You never know what she is thinking. But then she gets to balls you don't think she has a chance to reach. She's been a pleasant surprise."
Flame is joined by newcomers Kelly McDaid of Capuchino, an outfielder, Hillsdale grad Aracely Osuna and Burlingame grad Natalie Saucedo, an infielder-outfielder.
"We hope to see great things from these guys," Borg said. "You never know until you start playing."
CSM plays Modesto next Thursday at 3 p.m. in its home opener, the first of a seven-game homestand. All games are played on campus.