MORAGA – Though gold medals were draped around their necks, the California softball team’s attention wasn’t focused on the hardware they had earned after defeating San Ramon Valley 5-1 in the North Coast Section Division I title game.
Instead, they looked and listened to coach Tony Bari, who told the underclassmen to cherish the school’s first section championship.
“Freshmen, this doesn’t happen every year,” Bari declared in a postgame speech.
Alyssa Villarde, among the many circled around Bari in the Saint Mary’s College outfield, was a senior who appreciated the message.
“It means a lot, because all of us seniors started with the COVID year so it was hard from the get-go,” Villarde said. “I’m super-excited, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We’d never even been this far.”
Bari admitted he had his doubts about his team’s ability to reach the NCS’s pinnacle after it began the season 4-5 and went two weeks without being able to practice outside due to rain.
Stuck training inside the San Ramon school’s basketball gymnasium, it was in those less-than-ideal circumstances that the team found its groove.
“We were in the gym for most of our practices, so it brought us all together,” sophomore Jayda Crosby said. “We talked, and we knew what we wanted to accomplish. ”
Junior Kaitlyn Le has been an integral part of a team that went from the below .500 to 21 victories and a berth in NorCal play. She had shut out College Park and held a prolific Granada offense to one run in the previous two rounds.
Le was once again superb when her team needed the righthander to be at her best. Le pitched a complete game where she struck out three, walked none and allowed two hits against California’s East Bay Athletic League rival.
Whenever Le got an out, her teammates cheered her on from the dugout. Le did the same whenever a hitter got on base, which was quite often.
“My head hurts a little bit from screaming so much,” Le said.
Le had plenty of opportunities to make noise, California recording 10 hits, four of them doubles. After a scoreless first three innings, athlete of the week winner Hailey King doubled to drive in one run, one of her three hits on the day, and senior Mia Rabuco got an RBI on a groundout.
San Ramon Valley cut the lead to one when Ava Lyons drove in Addie Layous, who had led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a triple.
Though SRV was denied a championship, one of its standout players remained optimistic after the game.
“Yes, we lost the game, but that’s just one thing in our path and I don’t think it’s going to stop us,” said Gianna Baccei, whose team is expected to compete in NorCal play. “We’re hungry for another win.”
Le did not allow another run after that, and California scored one run in each of the last three innings to pad the lead. Reese Stiner, Shayla Santolucito and Hailey Godin all had RBIs.
San Ramon Valley briefly appeared poised to start a late rally, beginning the bottom of the seventh with a Lyons double. But on the next at-bat, Crosby sprinted in front of the center field wall and made an acrobatic catch to prevent an RBI.
“I was going to go all out and nothing was going to stop me from catching the ball,” Crosby said.
The Wolves’ next two batters popped out, and the orange-and-black celebration started. San Ramon Valley dropped to 23-6 and California improved to 21-8.
Amid hugs and congratulations from parents and players, California’s section-winning coach wasn’t in a hurry to ponder regional play.
“It’s gravy at this point,” Bari said about NorCal competition. “This was the goal. We really wanted this for the school.
“This year, we decided this was our year to be great, and I’ll be gosh darned if we didn’t do it.”
In Division II, Casa Grande defeated California’s EBAL rival Livermore 5-1.