Concord Softball has always been well respected, but a third NCS title changed perceptions.
By CHACE BRYSON | Editor
School has ended on the second to last Tuesday of the school year. Concord High softball coach Megan Coddington sits in her office, four days removed from her program’s third North Coast Section championship in the four seasons since she’s taken the helm.
And she’s trying to explain how she feels about the word.
It’s the word that keeps popping up in the myriad of congratulatory conversations she’s had in the days since the fourth-seeded Minutemen completed their NCS title run by defeating rival Clayton Valley Charter 9-2 in the Div. II final at Saint Mary’s College on May 31.
The word has its own gravity. It can’t be taken lightly. Coddington knows this, and it’s evident as she speaks.
“To be honest, I never really thought of us like that,” she says. “(Others) keep throwing that word out. I think it’s neat that people are throwing that word out, because it demands excellence. … It requires that kids step up. You’ll be letting the program and your school down if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do. It’s almost putting pressure on them without me having to put pressure on them already.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing. I think the kids know what will be expected.”
And if the rest of the North Coast Section doesn’t know what to expect of Concord at this point, then it’s just not paying attention.
Coddington was named the varsity coach in January 2010, after spending one year at the freshman level and two at junior varsity. Her predecessor, the late Jerry Wills, had built a foundation for success by leading the Minutemen to eight consecutive playoff appearances — though no titles.
In her first year as a head varsity coach, she and her team set a goal of winning the program’s first NCS title. That season.
“I’d been coaching in the lower ranks and knew the players I’d be coaching,” said
Coddington, whose playing history included a stellar career at Humboldt State University where she was the starting catcher for an NCAA Div. II National Championship team in 1999.
“We knew we had the athletes to win that year in 2010.”
And they did, posting a school-record 24 wins along the way. They matched that number again in 2012, storming the NCS Div. II field as the No. 5 seed, defeating top seed Pinole Valley in the semifinals and No. 3 Petaluma in the championship.
Unlike those first two title seasons, Coddington wasn’t sure what she had in 2013.
Eight seniors had graduated and the projected starting pitcher Kelly Drake had seen only limited action as a sophomore.
“I find it amazing that this group of girls came togethers as well as they did,” Coddington said. “On paper, they may not have been the best pitchers or best hitters — on paper — but when they stepped out onto the field, honestly something clicked.”
Something clicked off the field with the Minutemen as well. “We just meshed really well,” junior third baseman Kelsey Randall said. “We all felt like equals and there were no outcasts. Even when JV players got called up they fit right into everything. It just worked.”
And approximately halfway through the season, the motto became “Why not us?”
After a 3-0 nonleague loss to Petaluma on March 21, the Minutemen reeled off 14 consecutive wins. The last of those wins came on May 14 at Clayton Valley Charter. The Eagles would avenge that loss and break Concord’s streak just two days later, but the Minutemen had discovered their identity and had no shortage of confidence.
Drake had developed into an extremely effective pitcher, not overpowering but very adept at hitting her locations. The lineup had become quite prolific with a top of the order that began with Randall hitting over .500 and senior Amber Golini and junior Monique Cook immediately following her with averages hovering around .450. Seniors Quincy Pierce and Adrianna Ross joined Drake as key RBI bats in the middle of the order, and Alyssa Fredzess, Lu Benipayo and Courtney Davis were a very productive bottom third.
Concord had ten different players score at least 10 runs, nine players with at least 10 RBI, and seven with at least 20 hits. “Our hitting was all-around great this season,” said Davis, the team’s senior catcher. “We’re a very diverse lineup that could do a lot of different things.”
But perhaps the backbone of it all was the team’s defense.
“DWC! Defense wins championships,” someone shouted while the team took pictures near the scoreboard following the championship victory.
That defense allowed Drake to find a new level in the circle as well. “Coming into this year, I knew I had to work on my confidence,” the pitcher said. “It was big when I realized how good of a defense I had behind me. Trusting them really helped make me a better pitcher.”
The team’s regular season split with Clayton Valley lead to a co-Diablo Valley League Championship. And to nobody’s surprise on the campus at 4200 Concord Blvd., Concord was seeded behind its rival in a stacked Div. II playoff bracket.
The Minutemen were given the No. 4 seed behind No. 1 Petaluma, No. 2 Alhambra and No. 3 Clayton Valley.
“We were pretty shocked,” said Benipayo, the team’s steady-handed shortstop. “We thought we might’ve been seeded higher. We’re always the underdogs. Everybody always doubts us but we always come out and shock people.”
Why not us?
Drake shined in a shutout of top-seed Petaluma in the semifinals, allowing just five hits and striking out five. In the championship, she gave up just two earned runs on a two-run home run in the fifth. She also pounded out two of the team’s 11 hits and drove in four of the nine runs.
The Minutemen’s defense was on display throughout the championship game. They committed just one error and made a handful of spectacular plays, including the game’s final outs — a double play started when Sabrina Winningham made a diving catch in right field and Concord was able to retire an over-aggressive Clayton Valley runner at first base.
Three championships. None as one of the top two seeds.
“Being the underdog was definitely motivation for these girls,” Coddington said. “We’d hear Concord is going to lose to Clayton because of XYZ. When we won, we were proving once again that you don’t always need the best players to win, you just need to have players who believe in one another.”
Coddington reinforced that idea with an anecdote about Pierce, the team’s cleanup hitter for much of the season.
Pierce’s varsity career at Concord had been one of frustration after injuries cut both her sophomore and junior seasons short. This season was the complete opposite. She earned a starting job in the outfield and became a very dependable hitter in the cleanup spot for much of the year. She hit .386 and drove in 15 runs over 24 games.
But during a 5-2 NCS quarterfinal win over Pinole Valley, she was injured again when her thumb was hit by a pitch. A week later, Concord was set to play in the championship and Pierce was given medical clearance to play.
But she knew she wasn’t 100 percent. She went to Coddington and stepped down, “so that someone else could step up,” the coach said. “That was just another example of how these girls were team first all the way.”
Players who think that way, and coaches who foster it — it’s how dynasties are built.
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