Sunday, March 08, 2015

Softball: EG, PG, Sheldon All Good, But C.Oaks Could Be The Best

Could the best high school softball team this season be Division II Cosumnes Oaks? They may not end up being the top club overall in the entire Sac-Joaquin Section, because Vacaville, the defending Division I champion, has several key players back this year.

But, in the city of Elk Grove, the Wolfpack could have the most talented group in 2015.

In the opening week of play Lynda Bettencourt’s girls came from behind to defeat Sheldon, 9-5, and a couple days later held down Franklin for a 2-1 win. Both of those clubs are figuring to finish in the top half of the Division I Delta League this spring.

Bettencourt, as she generally is when talking about her girls, is positive when evaluating this season’s club, yet stops a bit short of saying Cosumnes Oaks may be better than the rest of the Elk Grove Unified School District teams.

“Anything is a possibility,” Bettencourt said. “Our team is a fun team to watch. We’ve got speed, we’ve got all the workings of a championship team, and so I do believe the potential is there for us to be highly successful.”

The former Cal Bear is starting her fifth season of coaching at Cosumnes Oaks with one of her own, catcher Sabrina Scott, already signed to a National Letter-of-Intent to play for Scott’s former mentor, Diane Ninemeier, in Berkeley.

“I know she is looking at (Scott) for her diversity at the plate and versatility as a player,” Bettencourt said. “She can catch and play outfield. I know (Ninemeier) is looking to her to come in and make an immediate impact behind the plate.”

In her junior season Scott battered opposing pitching with a very good .475 batting average that included three homers, a triple and eleven doubles. Scott also knocked in 26 runs.

She’s one of five seniors on the Wolfpack roster this year. All five are playing in college next year.

Now in the Capital Valley Conference, Cosumnes Oaks has to finish in the top three in the Conference in order to qualify for the post-season. Bettencourt says that could be a tall order.

“It’s going to be a highly competitive league because last year seven of the eight teams were ranked in the top twenty,” she said. “Every single league game will be a competitive game without any down time.”

A year ago the Wolfpack blew right through the Sierra Valley Conference winning all 12 league contests, but were shocked by Sierra in the opening round of the Division IV playoffs. Bettencourt is hoping for a lot better result this spring in Division II.

“This year we have depth which is something we haven’t always had in the past,” she said. “We have lots of different options and have lots of players at every position at least two, and at times, three deep.”

Mary Jo Truesdale has already witnessed the prowess of the Wolfpack, losing the season opener to them on March 3. But in the eight-school Delta League, the Huskies will probably vie for a championship once again, something that has been quite common for Truesdale.

Now in her 18th season at Sheldon, she’s coached her girls to Sac-Joaquin Section championships five times, were second twice, won a league title just about every season she’s been at that school, has her name on the softball field and a couple years ago was selected to the Section’s Hall of Fame.

And, in 2015 she’s just as excited coaching as she was 30-plus years ago when she first began coaching softball in her beloved Michigan. 
Sheldon's Mary Jo Truesdale hands out victory marbles after a playoff win in 2014

“I did retire from teaching four years ago, but not from coaching,” Truesdale said. “Coaching is still something I am passionate about. So, I don’t see myself giving that up.”

As is typical with her teams over the years, she has a nice mix of talented underclassmen along with good seniors this spring.

“We’re kind of a ‘young and a restless’,” she quipped. “We have three seniors and three freshmen and a couple sophomores. We are going to be up and down this year. Should be an interesting season.”

Truesdale actually has two pitchers who will lead the club. Gabby Montaie a year ago was 17-7 with a 2.51 ERA. Brook Coyne returns after sitting out last season.

“She was out with an injury,” Truesdale explained.

But, two big bats graduated, shortstop Anessa Kaylor, who batted .529 and is now at San Jose State, and Zamari Hinton, a .561 batter last season, now starting at Sacramento State.

Sisters Maci and Jordon Fines anchor the middle of the infield this year with freshman Shea Moreno at third base. Kaylen Minnatee and Sarah Brown will share duties at first base.

Truesdale will once again be handing out plenty of marbles in the school color of the Huskies’ opponents following Sheldon victories, a tradition she’s done for all her years of coaching.

Alongside the Huskies in the newly remade Delta League are a couple other EGUSD teams that are quite good.

Pleasant Grove has placed second in Division I each of the past two years, but they’ve graduated pitcher Celina Matthias, infielder Marissa Maligad and catcher Vanessa Washington. Co-head coaches Bob Book and Russ Pettis must count on returning players Sabrina Hicks and Autumn Miller to bring the Eagles back to the Sacramento Softball Complex in May, the site of the Section playoffs.

Jeff Alexander is starting his 13th year at the helm at Elk Grove with a team that will use what he calls, “pitching by committee.”

“Courtney Riley is a junior and Miranda Miles is a junior and they’ve split our first two games, one started and the other closed,” he said. “We have very good pitching, but it won’t be dominant. We’ll have to play defense. We don’t have strike-out pitching. We have ground ball pitching.”

Elk Grove's Jeff Alexander
Elk Grove is 2-0 in its first week with wins over Del Campo and St. Mary’s.

Alexander, much like Truesdale, has an excellent record of conference championships to go with his pair of Section titles (in 2004 and 2010) and runner-up finishes in his first year, 2003, and in 2007, 2008 and 2011.

He likes the quality of team he has in 2015.

“We’ll be competitive,” Alexander said. “I won’t go out on a limb and say that we’ll win (a Section title). We’ll see how we grow. I think we’ll have good defense. I think we’ll hit the ball well.”

Daughter Jenna, a former Purdue University catcher, along with Amanda Buck and Jon Baker, will once again assist Alexander.

“They have the passion for the game, having played it and coached it at the college level,” Alexander said. “They all speak their minds. They don’t pull punches. They tell the kids the way it is.”

This Thursday Elk Grove will once again host the Victory/Elk Grove Pre-season Tournament at three sites, Bartholomew Park, Sacramento Softball Complex and at Elk Grove Regional Park. There will be 40 varsity and 20 junior varsity teams competing.

First round games begin Thursday and will last through Saturday.

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