Recent History Shows Repeating As North Coast Section Division I Softball Champs Is No Easy Task — But Few Teams Have Been Built For It Like Foothill-Pleasanton •
Winning the North Coast Section Division I softball championship with a very young, extremely talented team in 2017 was an impressive feat for Foothill High-Pleasanton.
Now comes the question: can the Falcons repeat? Coach Matt Sweeney addresses that with three words: “Nothing is guaranteed.”
A few recent defending NCS Div. 1 champions have found that out. Since Sweeney’s 2007 team won the Div. 1 championship, only James Logan-Union City (2012-13) and Amador Valley (2014-15) have repeated. But this year’s Falcons squad has the talent capable of winning a second straight banner.
Let’s start with their sensational sophomore battery of pitcher Nicole May and catcher Courtney Beaudin.
May already is set for college, committing to Oklahoma in August 2016. She called it a “really humbling experience” to be headed to play for the Sooners, the defending back-to-back national champions.
“It makes me want to ramp up how hard I work because I will be going to a top- level program,” May said.
Her level of play is already pretty high. She struck out 293 batters in 191 innings last season, amassing an 0.84 ERA. At the plate, she led the team with a .460 batting average, contributed 36 RBI and tied Beaudin for the most home runs with 10.
“I think her pitching is going to get even better,” Sweeney said. “She is just going to get bigger and stronger. The sky is the limit for her. She is really easy to coach.”
“She is one of my very favorite pitchers to catch,” Beaudin said. “When I get down on myself she picks me up. .”
Beaudin led the team with 37 RBI and batted .453 in 2017. One of her 10 home runs came in the 6-2 win over James Logan in the NCS Div. 1 championship game, a two-run shot that put her team up for good, after her earlier single tied things up.
“It’s a flabbergaster she doesn’t have a Pac-12 offer; she’s a definite Pac-12 prospect,” Sweeney said. “She’s a special player. I have coached special players — people like Sean Mannion and Brandon Crawford and Val Arioto. They were special and not primadonnas, and Courtney is that way. She is so coachable.”
It makes for a potent lineup with May third and Beaudin at cleanup. It all starts at leadoff with junior shortstop Hope Alley, a University of Pittsburgh commit. Sweeney said Alley is probably tougher than her two brothers he coached in football. “I always like a really tough kid to be our leadoff hitter,” he said. At the No. 2 spot is second baseman Hailey Hayes, another sophomore, whom Sweeney is confident will be getting an offer.
After cleanup, there is third baseman Ellen Ebbers, a hard-working junior, and senior Lauren Hermes, who batted .409 as a designated hitter and infielder last year. “On most teams those players would be third and fourth in the lineup,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney is focused on softball coaching, stepping down in January to end his remarkable 31-year run as Foothill’s football coach, earning 265 wins, 15 league titles and four NCS championships. Sweeney said he grew weary of the year-round aspect of football coaching, and that he’s looking forward to doing things like going to see a college football game.
“I am good with not coaching football,” said Sweeney, adding that he figures to remain coaching softball as long as he is teaching at Foothill.
Though he is acclaimed for his football accomplishments, his softball teams also have been exceptionally successful. In his 10 previous seasons, the Falcons have made the semifinals or better seven times and reached the finals four times with two titles won. They are 81-27 over the past four years, a noteworthy feat in a game that can turn on a dime.
“If I want to make a block or make a tackle in football, I can will myself to make that play happen,” he said. “In softball or baseball, it doesn’t work that way. There’s a clean bunt, those slices off the bat; the pitcher won the battle, but those type of balls can cause the game to go the other way.”
Added Beaudin: “Toward the middle of each game, is when it gets competitive. That’s when the tricks and the bunts and the strategy comes in more and the mood of the game can change on any one play.”
The intensity and drive that has fueled Sweeney over the years is something his players have picked up on.
Said Beaudin “I think Sweeney’s energy rubs off on us. We don’t want him to let up on on us and don’t want to let him down. He pushes us to do better each game.”
May said she has “learned a lot from him about the mental side of the sport and mental toughness.”
The competitive fire burns brightly for Sweeney no matter what sport he’s coaching.
“For me, the competitive part of it is every bit the same. I love competition. I love all games, love competing,” he said. “Also, I get the butterflies and get nervous. In football, you are more in control of what’s going on. In softball it’s more out of your control.”