We sit down with the two veteran pitchers fueling nationally-ranked Amador Valley and James Logan.
By CHACE BRYSON | Editor
This is only a scrimmage. But what’s happening between the James Logan and Amador Valley High softball teams at Oak Grove Middle School on March 2 doesn’t quite have the same look or feel as the scrimmage happening on the neighboring field.
It would’ve been foolish for anyone to have expected it to.
This is the first time the full rosters of both teams have competed against one another since last June, when James Logan won an epic North Coast Section Division I final 1-0 over Amador Valley — a win that denied the Dons a perfect season and a mythical national championship.
Softball in the East Bay has seen its share of dynasties over the years, but the concurrent dominance of the Colts and Dons has a once-in-a-generation feel to it. Amador Valley opened the season ranked No. 1 in MaxPreps.com’s Xcellent 25 National Rankings; James Logan sat at No. 5.
At the hearts of these two clubs are two pitchers who have yet to play a high school season without starting in an NCS final. James Logan senior RaeAnn Garza has pitched in three, winning twice. In 2011, her sophomore year, she lost to an Amador Valley freshman named Johanna Grauer.
As pitchers, they could not be more different if they tried. Garza is a finesse pitcher who forces ground balls and relies on a fundamentally strong defense behind her. Grauer trusts her defense too, but doesn’t need it nearly as often — as evidenced by her 17-strikeout performance in last year’s championship loss.
Below is an interwoven transcript of separate conversations with both pitchers during their respective breaks between games during the March 2 scrimmage jamboree.
* * *
Is this the first time you two have seen each other since last year’s final?
GARZA: I believe we actually saw each other the weekend after the championship game. We both had a (club) tournament in Huntington Beach, so we saw each other then. But it’s always friendly. It’s always ‘hello.’ We’re friends.
GRAUER: We played on the same 14U team a few years ago. It’s not like there’s a personal rivalry where we dislike each other. Well there’s a competitiveness there, but it’s not like there’s tension. It’s relaxed.
What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you think of last year’s final?
GARZA: It was a fight till the end. They almost came back in that last inning. They never gave up. We never gave up. And it was just a great game. Two good teams.
GRAUER: It was heartbreaking. … In terms of as a pitcher. The first thing I think of is throwing a rise instead of a drop ball (to Garza, who hit an RBI double in the top of the seventh for the game’s only run), because I had her on the drop ball and I decided to switch it up and that’s what she hit. Personally, that’s something I always think of.
GARZA: I hit a deep fly ball. Jazmine Reed was on first base. She took it upon herself to steal on that pitch. She was already going. If we didn’t have her speed at first base, she probably would’ve ended up third. So most of that, I would say, was Jazmine Reed.
How much do you remember about the pregame? I was taken aback at how stark the contrast was between the two teams. One team (Amador Valley) appeared extremely loose and the other seemed to be quiet and exceedingly focused.
GARZA: We knew we wanted to win. We knew Johanna was a great pitcher. We knew they’re a good team. We just wanted it so bad. There was no goofing around before the game. Everybody was serious. Not tight, but SO focused.
Did you look over and think Amador Valley might be too loose?
GARZA: Uhh, I’m not sure. … No comment.
GRAUER: I felt like the looseness was good. I don’t think it’s good to go into a game all tense. To me, when the team is really quiet it’s like they’re nervous. Versus a team who is really relaxed and loose. It can come off as cocky, but it was more like we were confident and trying to stay relaxed.
Is this definitely a rivalry now?
GRAUER: It does feel like it, definitely. When I was a freshman we beat them twice that year and last year we beat them the first time. … A lot of people at our school know about it now, and if they find out we’re playing them they are like, ‘Oh, you gotta beat ‘em.’
This scrimmage was really the first chance to officially turn the page from how last year ended. How easy will that be for your team?
GARZA: We know that we have to. (Amador Valley) is a very good team and the final could’ve gone either way. We’ve been keeping up our hard work and we hope to be in the championship game with them again this season.
GRAUER: We’re off to a good start with that. We had a coaching change which sort of accelerated (turning the page). But our chemistry is still really good and we are ready to move forward.
You both have been pitching in pressure-packed games since your freshmen season. What have you learned in the time since that has made you a better pitcher?
GRAUER: I’m a lot more confident in what I’m doing. I know what to expect. I know what the feeling going into the championship game is like now. I kind of know how to control the emotions and stay really focused.
GARZA: I feel like I’ve learned a lot from playing teams (like Amador Valley). You realize how good of hitters they are and what you need to do. Facing those teams have helped me grow. My coach has helped me grow. My teammates, they have my back. I’m not a high strikeout pitcher. If I produce a ground ball my defense is going to get that out. Knowing they’re there for me is a really big deal.
What will it take for your teams to do it all over again this June?
GRAUER: Almost all of us are returners. We know what we’re doing. We’ve done it before, so it’s really relaxed. … We just need to work on staying into the game all seven innings. And hitting consistently.
GARZA: We need to trust each other and work hard. … We’ve been there so many times, why can’t we do it again? If we put in the hard work, we can do it.
SportStars Magazine: High School Sports Articles Online SportStars is your go-to source for the very best high school sports articles in California. Player and team profiles, game coverage, health and fitness tips and the largest Camps, Clinics & Combine resource for athletes. We're the story behind the stats.