SCL softball preview: Petaluma possesses hitting, pitching to win it all again

By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

This year’s Sonoma County League softball race could be as competitive as last season’s, when Petaluma and Casa Grande faced off in the final game of the year for the right to be declared co-champs with Analy.

The Trojans won that matchup and rode the momentum all the way to an NCS Division 2 title. Petaluma returns seven position players and both starting pitchers from last season’s 21-4 squad and figures to be the team to beat in the SCL this season.

“Petaluma has a whole bunch of girls who can hit the ball, and that’s kind of the difference in the league right now,” Casa Grande coach Louie Bruce said.

Both Casa and Analy will lean on their strong pitching staffs, while the other teams are hoping to get hot, play spoiler and qualify for NCS playoff berths. Six of the SCL’s seven teams qualified for NCS last season.

Here’s a look at how the league is shaping up so far, starting with last season’s NCS champs. Records and statistics do not reflect Thursday’s games.

Petaluma (10-1, 2-0 SCL)

Coach Kurt Jastrow thinks his squad would be undefeated if it weren’t for one bad inning against Arroyo in the championship game of the Standley Cup tournament last weekend in Hayward. Saturday’s defeat is the lone blemish on Petaluma’s record.

“Arroyo scored five runs on us (in the first inning), and we couldn’t come back,” he said.

Juniors Dana Thomsen (6-1, 1 save) and Gina Barnacle (4-0) handle the pitching, while Barnacle, catcher T.J. Watts, shortstop Chelsea Martin and corner infielder Allie Corids are the mainstays of a powerful offense. Corids is hitting .515 with 13 RBI to lead the team in both categories, while Watts has hit .359 and scored 14 runs. Freshman Meghan DeCoite (.353 average, 10 RBI) has been providing pop as well.

Jastrow feels his squad has proved it can play with any school in the section.

“Preseason, we’ve already played Concord and Alameda, two teams that always make the NCS in our division. We’re going to play Alhambra later in the year, who is the D3 champ and has everybody coming back.”

Analy (6-4, 2-0)

Last season’s league co-champs lost five seniors and aren’t returning nearly as many players as Petaluma, but the Tigers have one of the league’s top pitchers in senior Megan Winters (5-2, 1.12 ERA). Winters gives Nick Houtz’s team a chance to win any game.

“I had some key positions that I lost, but I’m pretty pumped about this new group of kids,” Houtz said.

After missing two starts with a broken finger, Winters has been pitching every game and taking care of business at the plate. She’s hitting .448 and has three home runs, 10 runs scored and 11 RBI.

Other top contributors are center fielder Maria Ragusa (.355 average), shortstop Madi Ortega (.360) and second baseman Kaitlyn Jay, the team’s other senior besides Winters.

Casa Grande (4-5, 1-1)

Last year’s third-place squad has plenty of returning experience. Coach Louie Bruce’s team lost just two players to graduation. The Gauchos return five seniors, four juniors and a sophomore who played varsity last year.

Like Analy, Casa Grande’s strength is its pitching. Seniors Ashley Porter (1-3, 2.88 ERA) and Ashley Ludlow (1-2, 0.47 ERA) give the Gauchos a chance to win every game.

“Ashley Ludlow throws a little harder; Porter has more movement on the ball,” Bruce said.

“Either one could be a starter for any team up here.”

The offense has struggled a bit in the early going, but junior first baseman Courtney Ludlow, Ashley’s younger sister, may be the top hitter on an offense that’s still rounding into form.

Senior leadoff hitter and center fielder Stephanie Sack is “just getting her feet back under her for softball,” Bruce said, after leading the Gauchos’ girls basketball team deep into the NCS and CIF playoffs. Also working her way back from basketball is second baseman Ali Fausone.

Windsor (2-3, 0-2)

After the top three, the SCL features four teams hoping to scrap for wins against the league’s best. Windsor played the role of spoiler last season, toppling Petaluma and playing a pivotal role in the final league standings.

“It’s a tough league,” Jaguars coach Dennis Lucchesi said. “We’re in the middle trying to fight to get some wins against (the top) teams.”

With three seniors returning from last year’s team, the Jaguars are fairly young. Lucchesi said Windsor’s bats are its strength.

Senior center fielder Morgan Rasmason hits leadoff and sets the table for the offense, while sophomore catcher Angelica Terrel, a second-year starter, is solid offensively and defensively. Senior Lauren Bastoni moves to shortstop from second base, and is “one of the hardest working kids on the team,” Lucchesi said. “She makes all the other kids better.”

The pitching staff, comprised of junior Megan Sieker and sophomore Rachelle Butulia, is young but still developing.
Sonoma Valley (5-5, 1-1)

In trying to gauge this year’s team, Sonoma Valley coach Dean Merrill is more encouraged by two tough losses than by any wins.
A 6-2 early season loss to Petaluma and a 13-12 defeat at the hands of perennial power Pinole Valley have Merrill convinced his young team can compete.

“We made (Petaluma’s Jastrow) call time out a couple of times and talk to his girls, so we did a good job,” Merrill said.

With just one senior, the Dragons are paced by underclassmen. Catcher/center fielder Lindsey Rocha and middle infielder Samantha Richards, both sophomores, are already offensive mainstays. The pitching duties are shared between two juniors, Zoe Gaarder and Jordan Samson.

Healdsburg (2-6, 0-1)

The Greyhounds struggled against the larger schools in the SCL last season but qualified for the NCS Division 4 playoffs by beating schools their own size.

First-year coach Laura Parker graduated from Healdsburg in 2005 and played collegiate ball at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. Before returning to Sonoma County a year ago, she coached at Sidwell Friends, the Washington, D.C., school that President Barack Obama’s daughters attend.

Parker’s top athletes include seniors Kim McKernan (.476 average, 12 RBI) and Chenae McCann (.353 average, eight runs).

Mikayla Froom-Rodgers and Sarah Weinstock pitch.

Freshman shortstop Ursula Lopez is a girl to watch.

“Considering she’s a freshman and a shortstop, she’s been doing really well,” Parker said.

Parker assisted at Greyhounds practices last year and takes over for Brian Osborn this season. She said her biggest challenge as a coach is making her girls believe they can play with the SCL’s heavy-hitters.

“They just came in (with a different attitude) last week when we were playing Sonoma, Kelseyville and St. Helena,” Parker said. “The best team in softball doesn’t always win, and if you come in with that attitude and play really hard, you can do well against Analy, Casa and Petaluma.”

El Molino (3-4, 0-2)

Connie Benavidez, who previously coached the Lions with Mel Manni, is flying solo this year. Her biggest challenge will be getting consistent hitting and defense.

“We started out really well hitting, but once we started playing in the league, we’ve lost it,” Benavidez said.

The pitching is provided by sophomore Alyssa Lopez, who starts most games, and senior Payton Fedrick, who plays shortstop and takes over when trouble crops up. El Molino’s top hitters are Fedrick (.357 average), Haley Millerick (.421 average) and Kerri Rampone (.474 average, 10 RBI).

Close preseason wins over Elsie Allen and Piner have Benavidez looking forward to next season’s realignment, which will bring those Santa Rosa schools into the SCL.

“We’ll be in a different group next year, so that should help us out,” she said.

Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or eric.wittmershaus@pressdemocrat.com.