If there was a flashpoint to the 2011 Amador Valley softball season that concluded with the program’s first North Coast Section title, it came in the Livermore Stampede tournament in early April.
The Dons were 9-0 after beating Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills in their tournament opener, and then a 3-0 loss to Archbishop Mitty-San Jose started a tailspin which lasted nearly two weeks. Julie Marshall’s team lost five in a row before the core of her young team steadied itself and closed the season with 11 straight victories.
But even with championship memories to cherish, it was clear that the 2012 Dons “” missing just three graduated seniors from the title-winning team “” considered the Stampede tournament as one in which they had unfinished business.
This time they opened the tournament on April 5 with an 8-0 record, and exited two days later with a 13-0 mark that would set them up to earn the No. 2 ranking in the state by CalHiSports.com on April 11.
“We were able to capitalize when we needed to,” fifth-year Dons coach Marshall said immediately following the tournament. “We did the little things and had great pitching behind us. We made a statement.”
The team’s biggest statement came in the semifinals when it defeated it’s Stampede nemesis, Mitty “” which entered as the state’s highest-ranked Northern California team at No. 3.
But this wasn’t just any win. It was emphatic. Amador Valley dispatched the Monarchs 8-1 behind the pitching of Johanna Grauer and a pair of home runs by shortstop Ashley Lotoszynski “” both sophomores, by the way.
In fact, that it took us seven paragraphs before mentioning Grauer is somewhat incredible. The fireballing right-hander was named tournament MVP after pitching 27 innings and allowing just four earned runs on 11 hits and striking out 62. She closed the tournament with a five-inning two-hitter in an 11-0 thumping of host Livermore.
Grauer’s final inning of the tournament included three strikeouts on just 10 pitches.
“Her maturity in the circle and her composure is unlike any pitcher I’ve ever been able to coach,” Marshall said. “I just can’t say enough about her. She definitely was the MVP of the tournament. Not only did she do it in the circle but she also did it offensively with some key hits in other games. She’s the backbone of my team.”
After showing flashes of her potential as a freshman a year ago “” which included the complete-game victory in the NCS final against James Logan “” Grauer has taken her game to new heights in 2012.
And if there was any one person who would know for sure, it’s her catcher, fellow sophomore and childhood friend Victoria Molina.
“Johanna is even better this year,” said Molina, who supported her battery mate with an impressive offensive tournament. “We just need to make sure we’re a team. Our team bonding is really great this year and I really do think we can succeed (at NCS) again.”
Following the post-tournament awards presentation, Marshall beamed.
Despite a strong nonleague schedule leading up to the Stampede “” including a Queen of the Mountain Tournament title that featured a win over Sacramento-powerhouse Sheldon “” it was clear that Marshall had the first weekend of April marked as the time when she would get at true gauge of her team’s mettle. And the Mitty win, and margin of victory, told her everything.
“That was probably the biggest win in program history,” the coach said. “It makes a statement and it shows that we’re here to come out and compete.”
Even Grauer made it clear after her 12-strikeout effort against Livermore in the final that the Mitty game had been the ultimate goal.
“(Mitty) felt more like a championship game,” Grauer said. “We knew Mitty would be the toughest competition we’ve faced all year, so that was our main point with this tournament “” we wanted to face Mitty.”
And so the young and talented players of Amador Valley broke apart. Seeking their respective rides home, they each took separate paths into the dimly lit parking lot at Robertson Park. And no doubt leaving with a much different mindset than the one they shared a year before.
Only Marshall would know for sure, but it’s more than possible she’s never had a team reach a confidence level this high by the mid-season marker.
And if she shares that confidence, she’s keeping it close to the vest.
“We definitely aren’t at the peak,” the coach said. “There are a lot of things that we still need to work on. Every game is a learning game, and an opportunity to grow as a team and mature as individuals. … Our ultimate goal is still out there, but we definitely have our eyes on it.” J
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