By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
For four Empire softball teams, the North Coast Section playoffs are just beginning.
While NCS baseball and softball action officially kicked off Tuesday and Wednesday, Analy, Clear Lake, Cloverdale and St. Vincent received high seeds and first-round byes when softball brackets were announced Sunday.
All four host playoff games at 4 p.m. today and are part of a slate of eight baseball and softball games this afternoon.
St. Vincent’s baseball team also earned a bye and begins play Saturday.
Analy softball coach Nick Houtz, whose fourth-seeded Tigers host Campolindo today in Division 3, isn’t a fan of the extra time off. The Tigers were in the same situation last year and lost to fifth-seeded San Marin.
“I’m happy with the seeding; I’m not too happy about the bye,” Houtz said.
“You’re playing ball pretty good, and then you’re off for a week. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it isn’t. You just have to wait and see.”
The Tigers (14-10) will face a familiar foe in Campolindo (13-9). Thanks to early-season rainouts, the teams faced off in the second game of an unusual three-school doubleheader earlier this month. (Campolindo lost to Cardinal Newman in the first game, and then was beaten by Analy.)
In that game, played May 4, Analy jumped out to a 3-0 lead early before getting too comfortable in the sixth.
“We jumped on ’em three to nothing, and the kids kind of started coasting and Campolindo came back,” Houtz said.
Analy’s senior starting pitcher Megan Winters was phenomenal as usual, striking out 14, but Houtz said a walk at the wrong time and some careless play in the field opened the door for the opportunistic Cougars.
“Teams like Campolindo scare me because if you’re playing Petaluma, the kids are on their A game,” Houtz said. “But if they think they can beat a team, sometimes they get a little lackadaisical.”
Still, Houtz likes his chances, provided everybody stays focused in the field.
“If the kids play ball like they’re capable of playing ball, we can go all the way,” he said.“We’ve got the pitching. Everybody just needs to come alive and play ball, and if we do, they’ll be fine.”
Top-seeded Clear Lake (19-2) is a perennial power in Division 4 but faces an unusual opponent today in No. 8 Cardinal Newman (12-12). In previous years when they competed as the Ursuline Bears, the North Bay League school traditionally petitioned to play in Division 3.
Even though Cardinal Newman is unfamiliar, Clear Lake spent the preseason cutting its teeth against teams from the NBL, beating Montgomery and losing to Ukiah, teams that finished ahead of Cardinal Newman in the league standings.
In other action, third-seeded Cloverdale (18-4), which finished just behind Clear Lake in the North Central League I, hosts No. 11 Arcata (11-10).
Like Analy’s Houtz, longtime coach Margaret Fitzgerald wasn’t crazy about the idea of extra time off.
“The more you play the better you are,” Fitzgerald said. “The last couple of weeks of our season, we were playing three games a week. Everybody’s practiced enough.”
Fitzgerald did use the down time to scout today’s opponent, No. 11 Arcata (11-10), which beat No. 6 Piedmont 11-10 in the first round.
“They swing the ball pretty well,” Fitzgerald said, adding that her team is “pretty balanced.”
“We have a lot of speed. We can eat people away with our speed.
“We have a few girls who can swing the bat. Our pitching is pretty steady. I don’t think we’re strong in anything; I just think overall we’re balanced.”
Don’t let St. Vincent’s 14-9 record fool you. The top seed in Division 5 easily ran the table in league play, and most of its losses came at the hands of Clear Lake and much larger schools from the NBL and SCL.
The NCS seeding committee noticed, and rewarded the Mustangs with Division 5’s top seed, over No. 2 Valley Christian (14-4).
St. Vincent coach Don Jensen, whose team returned nearly all its starters after falling to Valley Christian in last year’s championship, was surprised by the seeding.
“I’ve always played a tough schedule preseason,” Jensen said.
“Last year, the league we were in was tough enough that I thought we might get a No. 1 seed, but it was given to Valley Christian,” he said.
“Talking to other coaches, I got the same feeling this year. … It seems like it always goes to (an East Bay school).
“I kind of had my doubts that we were going to get the No. 1 seed, even though I thought we deserved it, so when I saw it, I was very happy.”
Today’s opponent, No. 9 Head-Royce of Oakland (11-7), squeaked by San Francisco’s University in the first round and lost 14-0 to the Mustangs way back in March.
“When we played Head-Royce at the beginning of the season, for one thing Head-Royce threw their No. 2 pitcher,” Jensen said. His team has “to understand we’re facing a different pitcher.
“But we have a much stronger batting order.”
Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or eric.wittmershaus@press
NCS PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE
No. 11 Kelseyville at No. 3 Salesian, 4 p.m.
No. 5 Concord at No. 4 Rancho Cotate, 4 p.m.
No. 6 Alameda at No. 3 Petaluma, 4 p.m.
No. 5 Campolindo at No. 4 Analy, 4 p.m.
No. 8 Cardinal Newman at No. 1 Clear Lake, 4 p.m.
No. 11 Arcata at No. 3 Cloverdale, 4 p.m.
No. 9 Head-Royce at No. 1 St. Vincent, 4 p.m.
No. 2 Laytonville at No. 1 Ferndale, 4 p.m.
No. 9 Cardinal Newman at No. 1 Campolindo, 1 p.m.
No. 6 Petaluma at No. 3 Casa Grande, 4 p.m.
No. 5 Alhambra at No. 4 Sonoma Valley (Arnold Field), 7 p.m.
No. 5 Stuart Hall at No. 4 St. Vincent, 1 p.m.
No. 2 Tomales at No. 3 Point Arena, 1 p.m.