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In many of the CIF sections in the state, there is a big drop from their top division softball playoff brackets to the second one. But the Sac-Joaquin Section doesn’t have quite the same commitment to competitive equity-based divisions. Many of the best teams from D2 and even D3 are very comparable indeed to those from D1.
The relative equal strength of D2 compared to D1 in the Sac-Joaquin was perhaps the main takeaway after watching Sheldon of Sacramento and Del Oro of Loomis win titles on Saturday at Sacramento City College. While Sheldon flexed its muscles and looked like the state’s No. 5 ranked team with a 7-1 victory over Lincoln of Stockton in its D1 final, Del Oro showed off a lineup that could connect with deep regularity as well in a 10-9 win against St. Francis of Sacramento later on in the D2 championship.
Sheldon 7, Lincoln (Stockton) 1
The Huskies won their ninth section title and have continued to play very well since just before the Livermore Stampede tournament, where they finished second to Granada of Livermore but got past state No. 1 St. Francis of Mountain View in the semifinals. They’ve won 15 of 16 games since then and one of the early losses that was avenged was one against Lincoln.
“Since league started, we’ve just been staying loose and having fun,” said head coach Mary Jo Truesdale, who has been coaching at Sheldon since 1995 and recently won her 800th game (including seasons in her native state of Michigan. “At the beginning, we were just too tight.”
The Trojans had advanced to the final with a 2-0 victory in the semifinals over Folsom, which had risen to No. 25 in the state with two league wins over Del Oro. Senior pitcher Peja Goold was able to blank the Bulldogs, but was done in by two innings against Sheldon.
Junior Sakora Harvell got the scoring going for the Huskies by hammering a home run to lead off the bottom of the second inning. Jazzy Fines then hit an RBI triple and was followed by Dakota Kennedy (Arizona commit) with a line drive homer that bounced off the baseball field foul pole that extends into the softball field.
With Sheldon ahead 4-0, Lincoln plated its only run of the game off of Sheldon pitcher Breanna Romero with a home run by freshman catcher Mia Pamplona in the top of the fifth inning.
The Huskies put the game away with three more runs in the bottom of the fifth. Kennedy slammed her second homer of the game to score the first run. Reina Zermeno’s triple and an infield single by D’Auna Johnson then helped set it up for a run to score on a throwing error and then another on a wild pitch.
“Coco (Harvell) started it off with her homer and then we were just feeding on all of that energy,” Kennedy said. “We’re ready for next week.”
Unlike at least one school so far in Southern California (Los Alamitos) that will be opting out of next week’s first-ever CIF regional playoffs in both regions of the state due to a majority of girls favoring the first week of their travel ball season, the Sheldon girls are all in for the NorCal bracket.
“It’s going to be fun and exciting,” Trousdale said of getting to play on after the section championships for the first time in her career. “Kudos to the travel ball coaches. We’ve found most of the ones we know to be so supportive of their girls in their high school careers. It really makes a difference.”
Del Oro 10, St. Francis (Sacramento) 9
This game appeared to be over heading into the top of the seventh inning with the Golden Eagles having grabbed a 10-4 lead over the Troubadours in the bottom of the sixth. But both of these teams have lineups that can pour on the runs and St. Francis came so very close to a six-run inning that would have tied the score.
Del Oro, which had been as high as No. 12 in the state earlier in the season but was the No. 1 seed in the D2 bracket for having an early-season win over St. Francis, won its first section title since 2002. The Golden Eagles improved to 26-4.
A two-run homer by Kendal Manley and then a solo shot by Caroline Grimes accounted for the Golden Eagles’ three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
St. Francis had taken a 4-2 lead in the top of the second inning on a two-run triple by Grace Jenkins (the twin sister of pitcher Hope Jenkins, who are both going to UConn and both who have been among the top players in the section for three seasons). Jenkins then scored when she was hit on a throw to third by Sheldon’s catcher.
After tying the score at 4-4 in the third, the Golden Eagles took a 7-4 lead with three runs in the fourth. Haylee Englebrecht, who had homered earlier in the game, had an RBI single to get the rally going. Olivia Robison then knocked in a run with a double and came home herself on an RBI single by Manley.
In the top of the seventh, St. Francis head coach Kevin Warren had to be super-proud of the way his girls fought to their final swing. Grace Jenkins began the scoring with a solo homer with one out. She was followed with a double by Francesca Guerrera, who made it 10-6 by scoring an a bad hop RBI single by Hope Jenkins. Then it got really interesting as Kayla Garber (who will play next at Sac City) hit a high fly ball that carried and carried and went over the wall for a two-run homer. With the score 10-8, two more singles (six straight hits in all) put the tying runs on base. A sacrifice bunt by Amy Abueg then scored one run from third after a close play there was ruled safe. With the tying run in scoring position and two outs, Grimes gutted it out in the circle for Del Oro and got Haley Kim to hit a fly ball to left that was caught to end the game.
Since St. Francis is still sitting at 26-4 after the loss and comes from the same Delta League as Sheldon and also was No. 12 in last week’s state rankings, Del Oro head coach Sean Erickson was asked about the possibility, even the probability, of his team being in the Division I bracket for the NorCal regionals and perhaps having the chance to play the Huskies.
“Absolutely, we’d love that,” said Erickson, who has been the school’s head softball coach for 17 years. “We’d love to see Mary Jo there. We’re great friends and text each other all the time.”
No matter what, this Del Oro team and its coach have stamped themselves into the school’s athletic history.
“We’ve had six of these girls since they were freshmen and those freshmen graduated this morning and then came out here and did this,” he said.
Manley’s story of coming back from two knee surgeries plus everything that went on with COVID (no playoffs the past two years) brought tears to Erickson’s eyes.
“You can tell from my voice how much she’s overcome,” he said. “She’s now hit home runs in five straight games.”
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