Padecky: A tale of teamwork and a little chain-link luck

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA — Coach Don Jensen and three of his St. Vincent softball players were sitting at a table in a room at a restaurant Tuesday morning, telling their story about winning the NCS Division 5 championship, when a man walked unannounced into the room. He was carrying five plates, one of which had four pastries. The girls stopped talking. They stared, puzzled.

“Compliments of the Apple Box,” said the man, “for your championship.”

By their expression, you would have thought each one of them had been handed a key to a Ferrari. What? Winning NCS and free baked goods on top of that?

What happened next is quite possibly the most remarkable display of teamwork I have ever seen in sports.

And I am not making this up. It really happened.

It has to do with teamwork. You know what they say about teamwork? Often stated, rarely achieved. A cliché. Something of an obligation to declare. Take the high road, suppress the ego. Win a championship? That’s not the right moment to puff out the chest. It’s the politically correct thing to say, in other words.

So what would happen to teamwork if you place four pastries in front of three teenagers? Someone could get stabbed with a fork going after the chocolate croissant.

Not this time.

Shortstop Morgan Selmi took a knife and fork, removed a plain croissant from the stack and cut it into three pieces. Pitcher Hayley Olsen took a piece and pitcher Hannah Sarlatte took the other. Selmi waited. With a pastry on each plate — and with none of the three casting a sideways glance — all three girls forked their croissant portion at the same time and brought it to their mouths.
That’s when I asked the girls if they knew what they were doing. They looked up, then to the side, then started laughing. Sarlatte said something about how they should chew together.

“We are a team,” Selmi said and for one of the few times in my life that sentence didn’t sound like a cliché.

I wondered if they call each other at night so they can fall asleep at the same time.

So when St. Vincent started the season losing six of its first seven games, you could see how they finished on a 16-3 run to the NCS title. They did it as a team. They said they did it by believing in each other. No finger-pointing. No hissy fits. Everyone takes a bite out of the croissant, so to speak.

This was never more obvious than on the last play of their season Saturday. First baseman Katie King had retrieved a ball, was throwing to second base. Shortstop Selmi was covering the bag in advance of a sliding runner from College Prep. Behind Selmi was second baseman Jennifer Eastham. Behind Eastham was center fielder Shannon Carroll. AND behind Carroll was left fielder Alexis Torres. All were standing in a straight line, like they would for a movie, except they were backing each other up in case of a bad throw.

THAT kind of teamwork.

Said Selmi, with THIS kind of confidence: “I had caught the ball from Katie, the runner hadn’t come into me yet and out of the corner of my eye I saw my third baseman holding up her glove and screaming ‘We won! We won!’”

That’s because Hannah Upton knew Selmi was not going to have the ball kicked out of her glove.

“No way I’m giving it up,” said Selmi, and for a second there she sounded like a dog with a bone.

“And she (the runner) took me out,” Selmi said, “and that was fine.”

You gave me the bruise but I get the trophy. It’s a swap, Selmi said, she would make every time.

Years from now, said the three players and Jensen, that last play of the season would be the Kodak memory. Olson was working on the no-hitter when College Prep’s Lila Jensen smoked a grounder that caromed off a diving Eastham to Selmi. Selmi threw low and past King at first base.

Here’s where a little magic came in.

Selmi’s throw hit near the end of a chain-link fence. A foot to the left and the ball is past the fence and the runner gets an easy trip to second base. Or if the ball hits the chain-link and bounces down or up or to the left or to the right, King doesn’t get it.

“But it comes right back to Katie,” Jensen said.

Throw a softball 10 times against a chain-link fence and add up the number of times it doesn’t die immediately or bounce off to the side but instead comes directly back to the fielder. Like room service. If it happens once, that’s a high percentage. But it happened this time and King made the throw and Selmi made the tag and now comes the best part, reliving a moment that never gets old.

“It feels like it happened yesterday,” Sarlatte said Tuesday. “It’s just so surreal. I am still waking up over it.”

Sarlatte wakes up and still has that one-hitter she threw the day before in the section semifinal. The ball still comes directly back at King a day later. King still throws that dart to Selmi. The dog pile still forms near the pitcher’s mound. St. Vincent’s still has its third section championship. And she still had one-third of that croissant Tuesday, without complaint by the way.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.