The Arroyo Grande High School softball team always seemed to be in contention with John Welch as its head coach.
Last year, the Eagles finished 19-8 overall and went 10-4 in the PAC 8 League. The year before that, they went 16-10 and 7-5 in league. In 2015, Welch's Eagles went 10-2 in PAC 8 play and tied for first atop the league standings with perennial league power Righetti.
But Welch stepped down after this past season, deciding to retire in May after five seasons at the helm in Arroyo Grande.
Apparently, that retirement didn't stick.
On Tuesday, St. Joseph High School, also a member of the PAC 8 League, announced that Welch has been hired as the Knights' next head coach.
"I am very honored and excited about taking over the St. Joseph softball program," Welch said, according to a school-issued press release. "Both of my daughters graduated from St. Joseph and their successes today can be directly attributed to their time at St. Joseph. I can just about throw a rock to where we practice and play and it feels good to come home. I’m thankful for the opportunity and I just want everyone to sit back and enjoy the ride."
Welch takes over for Jon Valencia, whose first year came in 2014 after Greg Guerrero didn't return to the club.
The Knights have struggled to compete in the PAC 8 League. Last year, St. Joseph finished 8-17 overall and 0-14 in league. From 2014 to 2017, St. Joseph went a combined 0-50 in league contests.
The last time St. Joseph won a league softball game was in 2013, when the Knights went 2-10 in the then-PAC 7 League under Guerrero.
The Knights practice and play their home games near St. Louis de Montfort in Orcutt.
Though the Knights have struggled to win against stout PAC 8 League competition, there are signs they're headed in the right direction with a talented core of young players.
Halli Hunter, as a sophomore, was named to the All-CIF Southern Section team in Division 5 last year. Hunter led the Knights with a .433 average. She scored 21 runs, racked up 26 hits and drove in five runs while belting six doubles and a triple.
Ally Dias had a superb junior season for the Knights and is expected to return to the team. Dias hit .370 last year with 16 runs scored, 27 hits, seven RBIs, six doubles and three triples.
Maddie Gamble, who was a sophomore last year, hit .343 in 25 games with 15 runs, 23 hits, 11 RBIs and six doubles with the Knights' lone home run. Soleil Orca, another class of 2019 player, and Gamble led the Knights in RBIs with 11 each. Orca hit .338 with 25 hits and four doubles, scoring 19 runs.
Paige Hugenard, a junior last year, led the Knights in runs with 22. She hit .338 in 25 games with 25 hits and four RBIs, smacking five doubles.
St. Joseph will be in the PAC 8 League this upcoming year, but a shift may be on the horizon as St. Joseph moves from the CIF Southern Section to the Central Section, with other Santa Maria Valley and San Luis Obispo County schools. A total of 13 area schools are making the move to the Central Section, though the league configurations have yet to be decided.