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Blanking Heritage of Brentwood 2-0 in the CIF North Coast Section Division I championship on Saturday isn’t going to be enough for the Foothill of Pleasanton softball team to finish No. 1 in the final Cal-Hi Sports state rankings but that doesn’t prevent the Falcons from becoming one of the most historically significant squads in the history of Northern California prep softball.
Foothill completed a wire-to-wire run atop all of the regional rankings. Plus, the 28-0 final record will go down as the best-ever for a team from the NCS and is tied for fifth on the all-time state list. See that updated state record list added below this writeup.
The two NCS teams have been eyeing each other in the title game for many weeks. Heritage put itself in that position by winning two tournaments — the Reed Invitational in Sparks, Nev., and the Antioch Invitational — and also went through the Bay Valley Athletic League unscathed. The Patriots were No. 9 in the most recent State Top 25 and advanced to the title game earlier in the week with a surprisingly lopsided 10-0 victory over California of San Ramon.
“We scrimmaged them on February 28 and I told Ronnie (Heritage head coach Ron Rivers) that we’ll play you in the finals,” said Foothill head coach Matt Sweeney, who also directed the Falcons to the NCS D1 title two seasons ago. “Every time we’ve been in this game it’s been tough and it was against them today, too.”
The two teams were tied 0-0 heading into the bottom of the third inning. After an error put one runner on base and two were out, Oklahoma commit Nicole May stepped to the plate for Foothill. She had been struck out in her first at-bat on a called strike that appeared to be high and then got into a battle with Heritage pitcher Delia Scott. With two strikes, Scott had a close pitch on the outside corner that was called a ball instead of strike three. May then got another pitch a bit more over the plate and crushed it over the fence in right center that gave the Falcons a 2-0 lead.
Heritage collected what ended up as its only hit of the game in the top of the fifth on a hard grounder hit by Juju Sargent in which Foothill shortstop Hope Alley dove and caught but couldn’t get Sargent at first. Sargent then moved into scoring position and Izabel Ordaz was hit by a pitch, but May struck out Lyndsey Burrow to end the threat.
May had a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth and again in the seventh to close out the win, including two strikeouts in the seventh. She ended with a one-hitter and 13 strikeouts.
It was an outing by May quite similar to the one by Amador Valley’s Danielle Williams in last year’s NCS D1 final against Foothill in which she homered off of May and pitched a shutout.
“We don’t talk about that,” May said after the game. “You have to have a short memory.”
Yes, but did having a short memory help Foothill to go 28-0?
“You just try to focus on competing in every game and nothing else,” she added. “It’s just an awesome feeling and this was a good group of girls who came out to grind every single day.”
With Williams now at Northwestern (she was Big Ten Conference freshman of the year) and with May, Alley and others returning from last year’s Foothill team (including three-year starting catcher Courtney Beaudin), Foothill being considered the preseason pick in the NCS and for all of Northern California for this season was a no-brainer.
Sweeney didn’t think the team should have been No. 3 preseason in the country by MaxPreps and neither did Cal-Hi Sports. In our preseason rankings, knowing that the Falcons (unlike Amador Valley when Williams was there) weren’t going to be playing in any of the elite tournaments in Southern California, the plan was to place them in the top five for the state but behind a few of the other preseason top-ranked teams from the south that were going to be playing each other.
Still, to win every game in 28 outings, including the championship at the Livermore Stampede (which had eventual CIF Central Coast Section Open Division champ Archbishop Mitty and eventual CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 champ Whitney of Rocklin in the field), has to be celebrated as a monumental achievement.
“We never thought about any of that,” said Sweeney, also one of the winningest football coaches in NCS history and now the most successful in state history of the several others with a football background who also have coached softball (including Rivers, a former NFL running back). “It was first just to win the Stampede, then it was getting to league and hanging a banner for that. This year, we were the one seed for the league playoffs and then the one seed for NCS and we knew it was sudden death. We couldn’t afford to think of anything else.”
One of those teams ahead of Foothill in the preseason state rankings was consensus preseason national No. 1 Norco. The Southern California powerhouse did have one loss on the season but it was to a league opponent, Santiago of Corona, that the Cougars also defeated. Their title wins at the Dave Kops Tournament of Champions in Arizona, the Michelle Carew Classic and repeating in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs (which is the hardest bracket in the nation to win) also had them still ahead of Foothill in last week’s State Top 25 and also will keep them higher for the final rankings. Both teams, however, will be in the top five of all prominent final national rankings, including the Extra Elite Eighty by ExtraInningSoftball.com.
Heritage kept itself in the game by preventing Foothill from scoring extra runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. One of those threats came after a leadoff double in the fourth by Foothill’s Ellen Ebbers. Part of the reason that happened was some outstanding defense by Heritage shortstop Xiara Diaz.
Both Sweeney and May were asked if they’d like to see the season continue with CIF NorCal or state playoffs after the section playoffs.
“I really wish we could,” May said. “I don’t know how that would happen, but it would be fun to see how we’d do against those L.A. teams.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Sweeney said. “This is what we have. In 2015, we had a very good football team but that was before the NCS had an Open Division and we lost to De La Salle. Logistically, I know it would be easier in softball than baseball. In baseball, with the pitching limits, I have no idea how that could work.”
Best Softball Team Records
For Single Season (Cal-Hi Sports State Records)
34-0 – Sutter, 2009
32-0 – Huntington Beach Ocean View, 1985
32-0 – San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 2009
30-0 – Stockton Lincoln, 1987
29-0 – Santa Maria Righetti, 1980
28-0 – Pleasanton Foothill, 2019
28-0 – Lancaster Paraclete, 2016
27-0 – Pleasanton Amador Valley, 2014
27-0 – Fremont Washington, 1995
27-0 – Ferndale, 2004
27-0 – Lakeport Clear Lake, 2007