By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — From the first practice, St. Vincent de Paul softball players knew this season’s squad could end the school’s section title frustration. The Mustangs proved prophetic with a convincing championship win Saturday.
Behind the one-hit pitching of Hayley Olson and making the most of scoring chances, St. Vincent handled College Prep at home 5-0 for the North Coast Section Division 5 title.
“From the very beginning of the season we knew we had a put-together team,” said Olson, who matched Hannah Sarlatte’s one-hitter in the section semifinal. “We did it, and it was definitely a team effort.”
St. Vincent scored the only run it would need in the first inning when Olson grounded out to score shortstop Morgan Selmi, who tripled to open the contest for the Mustangs.
Settling down to keep College Prep close was Sadie Oliver-Grey. She struck out 10 and didn’t walk a batter, but was let down by a sloppy defense.
“It happens to all of us. The team stayed strong through it,” Oliver-Grey said. “I don’t care that we lost. I love my team so much.”
College Prep, of Oakland, did well to reach the finals. The third seed starts a lineup including some players who only took up the game in high school.
Top seed St. Vincent played like a favorite, led by talented starters from freshmen to seniors. Playing error free, St. Vincent scored five runs on just six hits.
“We knew we had to take advantage of every opportunity,” said second baseman Jennifer Eastham. “Defense wins games, and our pitching staff was phenomenal.”
Up by only one run going into the fourth inning, St. Vincent rallied for another beginning with a single from right fielder Kayla Marshall. A dropped foul ball gave Eastham new life, and while she struck out the catcher dropped the pitch and Eastham beat the throw to first base. Marshall kept running and scored.
Breaking the game open in the fifth inning, St. Vincent scored three runs on only one hit, aided by three College Prep errors. Selmi reached on an error and scored when Olson bunted for a hit, scampering home from second base on the late throw to get Olson at first base. Another Cougars miscue on Ursyla Baumgarten’s hard grounder allowed Olson to score and Baumgarten to run all the way to third base. She then went home on a pitch that got by the College Prep catcher.
Normally a hard-hitting lineup with five starters boasting batting averages above .400, the Mustangs were mostly held in check by Oliver-Grey. St. Vincent batters had more success against the right-hander in a win earlier this season.
“We’ve definitely had a better than expected season. We’re a scrappy team,” Oliver-Grey said.
Yet the Mustangs were good enough with Olson at her best in the pitching circle.
The main drama late in the game was whether Olson could throw a no hitter.
After walking a pair of College Prep batters in the first two innings, Olson retired 15 in a row.
Down to the final out, Olson yielded a hard groundball up the middle by second baseman Lila Jensen for the Cougars’ only hit. Selmi made a play and threw wide of first base, but Katie King scrambled for the ball and threw out Jensen attempting to reach second base.
“I wanted the no-hitter. But the out mattered more,” Olson said. “My top priority was winning.”
Taking the section title was a team goal. A championship meant even more for seniors including Eastham, a four-year starter who wanted to end a drought including title game losses in 2009 and 2011. Saturday's win gave St. Vincent its first section softball title since 1980.
“We knew it was possible,” Eastham said. “It feels great. That’s a good way to go out.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.