Livermore school (the other one and not the host school) captures the Livermore Stampede softball tourney final and shakes up the Northern California pecking order just one week after the biggest tourney in Southern California did the same thing down there.
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Since St. Francis of Mountain View and Heritage of Brentwood ended the 2021 spring softball season with perfect records and were the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in various final Northern California rankings, the anticipation of the two of them meeting in this year’s Livermore Stampede tournament has been very high.
The Stampede wasn’t held in 2020 or 2021 due to the pandemic, but returned to the Ernie Rodrigues Fields in Livermore (with many of the area’s biggest wine tasting rooms beckoning not far away on Tesla and Concannon Roads) this weekend. And when all the games were complete on Saturday, neither St. Francis or Heritage was able to reach the championship game.
Granada of Livermore, which did suffer its first loss of the season in a pool play format game earlier in the three-day tourney, won its first Stampede title since 1996 with a 6-3 triumph over Sheldon of Sacramento.
The Matadors may not represent their arch-rival school that has been running the Stampede for nearly 30 years, but all of the girls know the significance of winning it all against a field that usually lands many of the top teams from the CIF North Coast Section, CIF Central Coast Section and CIF Sac-Joaquin Section.
“It puts us on a pedestal,” said tourney MVP Makayla Winchell, a senior outfielder from Granada who has signed with Notre Dame. “We’re going to be doing great things this season.”
That pedestal next week likely will be a new No. 1 ranking for Northern California and in the Bay Area. St. Francis had entered this year’s event in that position, but fell in the semifinals earlier on Saturday, 5-3, to Sheldon. Granada wasn’t exactly a stunning winner since the Matadors already had been moving up in the rankings with an 11-0 start and were up to No. 15 in the state. They took a 3-2 loss to Benicia in a pool play game at the Stampede on Thursday, but came back to win their pool and then in the semifinals earlier on Saturday came from behind to defeat Whitney of Rocklin, 7-4.
The Matadors jumped on Sheldon pitching early on in the title game (which has been weakened all season so far with the injury loss of No. 1 hurler Jaylee Ojo). They took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning on an RBI single by sophomore Saskia Raab, which was a hard hit grounder that bounced off the pitcher, and then a run scoring during a double steal in which the run scored before the runner between first and second base was tagged out. Then in the top of the second junior Lauren Deplitch knocked in a run before Winchell came up and launched a home run over the left-center field fence for a 5-0 lead.
Junior pitcher Alex Mello’s ability to pitch on the corners and keep Sheldon’s offense off the board was equally crucial toward Granada’s championship. She had held the Huskies to just three hits entering the bottom of the sixth and with the lead up to 6-0 on an RBI double by Winchell in the fourth.
The Huskies chipped away with a run in the sixth on an RBI double by D’Auna Johnson and then in the seventh they got it down to 6-3 on an RBI single by Reina Zermeno and they were able to get the tying run to the plate with the Cal-bound Johnson being the batter. Mello, however, ended the game with a strikeout.
“These girls believe they can play with anyone,” said Granada head coach Johnny Heinz after accepting the championship trophy. “It was a wake up call with the loss to Benicia. We came out ready to play every game after that. It kind of took the monkey off our backs.”
Sheldon began the week with three losses on the season and had fallen behind several teams from the Sac-Joaquin Section in the state rankings based on those results. But the girls showed what their lineup was capable of during the Stampede and in their game leading into the Stampede with a 1-0 win over previously unbeaten Elk Grove, which has been No. 1 in the section and top 10 in the state.
“It was a good week because we knew we had the talent and just needed to put it together,” said legendary Huskies’ head coach Mary Jo Truesdale. “We’ve been working hard and it finally paid off against Elk Grove and then it carried over into this tourney. With just one more inning tonight, it might have been a different ending.”
The Huskies faced the powerful lineup of St. Francis in the semifinals and while the Lancers got home runs from Shannon Keighran and Sydney Stewart they were both solo shots. With a 2-2 game in the top of the fifth inning, the biggest hit of the tourney for Sheldon was a two-out drive over the right fielder’s head by Beija Allen with the bases loaded in which all three runner’s scored. It also came on a 3-2 pitch. The Lancers scored in the bottom of the fifth to make it 5-3 and had a chance in the bottom of the sixth in their last at-bat in a timed-out game but could only get a sacrifice fly to make it 5-4.
In the third-place game, St. Francis Ms. Softball State Player of the Year candidate Jessica Oakland shined with a pair of homers and had six RBI in a 8-0 win in five innings over Whitney. This third-place finish for St. Francis, however, had to be more of a disappointment for the team than its third-place finish from the week before at the Michelle Carew Classic since the Lancers also notched wins over powerful well-known Southern California softball schools Norco and Los Alamitos. Still, in both of their losses this season (the other was to Canyon of Anaheim), it was one swing of the bat that was difference. Head coach Mike Oakland’s team could still be quite formidable for the upcoming CCS and then in the first-ever CIF Northern California Open Division playoffs.
St. Francis’ rivals from the West Catholic Athletic League, Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, also came to the Stampede (as the Monarchs usually do) and took the fifth-place game with a 5-1 triumph over host Livermore. Senior Elon Butler, who will be a teammate of Sheldon’s Johnson next year Cal, smacked a two-run homer and had a two-run single to lead the way. Mitty also had a league loss to the Lancers earlier in the week after starting it 13-0 and at No. 9 in the state rankings.
“It was a tough loss to St. Francis, but we just had the mentality to come out here and play our game,” Butler said. “Hopefully, we’ll do better when we play (St. Francis) again.”
Whitney was perhaps the most surprising team of the weekend. The Wildcats were only 5-5 on the season coming in (playing in the very strong Sierra Foothill League) but they upset Mitty, 5-2, in their first game of the Stampede and then won their pool with triumphs over College Park of Pleasant Hill and Foothill of Pleasanton. Then in the semifinals against eventual champ Granada they were leading 4-1 until giving up five runs in the fourth and losing 7-4 in a timed out game. Sophomore Madilyn Novello went 2-for-3 with two runs scored vs Mitty and went 3-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored vs Foothill.