By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Senior Aliza Atkins’ first career home run helped power Clear Lake to the North Coast Section Division 5 title on Friday in Lakeport as the Cardinals defeated St. Joseph Notre Dame, 5-1.
Clear Lake was the bracket’s top seed while the Pilots were No. 2.
The hit by Atkins was the key one in the game. The shortstop connected on a fastball with two runners aboard in the third inning to give Clear Lake a 4-0 lead.
The home team also scored in the second on a homer by pitcher Rachel Wingler and added its final run in the fourth. St. Joe scored in the seventh.
The two home runs doubled Clear Lake’s total for the year.
Atkins’ shot was down the left-field line.
“I was a little in front of the pitch but I knew I hit it good,” Atkins said. “It feels great having my first home run come in a big game.”
A four-run lead turned out to be plenty for Wingler. The junior struck out seven without allowing a walk.
It wound up being a turnaround season for the Cardinals. They started out 4-5 and finished 20-6.
“We weren’t playing well,” coach Gary Pickle said of the slow start. “When it came time for spring break, I told the girls we weren’t going to practice. I told them to come back with clear heads.”
The players listened and wound up winning 16 of the team’s last 17 games, including three in NCS.
St. Joseph also came into the championship playing good ball. The Alameda school beat its first two NCS opponents by scores of 10-0 and 14-4.
The final was one of the best defensive games the Cardinals played. They committed two errors but neither led to scores.
Clear Lake finished with seven hits, including two each by Emily Omiotek and Wingler.
“We got hot at the right time,” said Pickle, who has been the coach for 23 years. “We played our best ball when it counted most.”
It was the first NCS title for Clear Lake since 2007.