By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — When Jerry Briggs accepted the coaching job at Cardinal Newman last summer, his expectations weren’t high.
After all, the Cardinals returned only four players from the 2012 team that finished 13-13, and pitching, so important in softball, looked like it would be a problem.
The season has just begun, but already Briggs has learned his team is more talented that anyone thought.
Yes, it’s still early, but the Cardinals are playing like they could be in the top tier of the North Bay League.
On Thursday, the Santa Rosa school defeated St. Vincent, 5-2, and while the Mustangs play in the small school North Central II-South League, they did win NCS Division 5 in 2012. They returned most of the players from that championship squad of a year ago.
It was Newman’s second win after opening the season with an 8-0 victory over Novato.
Lexie Raasch, who pitched a complete game to get the victory, is a freshman, as is her batterymate, Sara Knight.
“When I took the job, I didn’t know anything about Lexie and was concerned that pitching was going to be a problem,” Briggs said.
Raasch limited St. Vincent to four hits, two of those coming in the second inning when the Mustangs scored their two runs.
Raasch pitched in relief in the win over Novato, so Thursday was the first start of her high school career.
“I was a little nervous the first few innings,” the right-hander said.
“Then, when we scored three in the third and took a 4-2 lead, I started to relax.
“My curveball was working and that’s my go-to pitch. I was getting it on the outside of the plate consistently.”
Newman scored once in the first when lead-off batter Kayla Douglas walked and came around to score on a single by Vanessa Hall.
St. Vincent answered with a pair of runs in the second as Hannah Upton and Alexis Torres opened the inning with hits and then came around to score.
In the third, Douglas again got things going for the Cardinals by coaxing a lead-off walk from Hayley Olson. She scored on an error by shortstop Ursyla Baumgarten.
Raasch then singled, Sara Knight walked and Ellie Filice’s double knocked in two.
Filice’s shot was to straightaway center.
“It was a low, outside pitch,” she said. “I don’t usually swing at those pitches but I had two strikes and couldn’t take it.”
It was the season-opener for St. Vincent, and at times the Mustangs’ defense was shaky. They committed four errors.
“I think the girls had opening-game jitters,” coach Don Jensen said.
“We have things to work on, especially our defense. The key for us is making plays in the field because our pitchers have good control.
“We’ve got a good team and will improve with game experience.”
The Mustangs have an ambitious schedule. By the time playoffs roll around in May, they will have played at least six teams from the NBL.
“We try to play as many teams from the bigger leagues as we can schedule,” Jensen said. “Playing tough competition makes us better when we begin league play.”