Sheldon-Sacramento Has Built Its Sac-Joaquin Section Softball Dynasty Upon Mastering The Little Things — And The 2018 Squad Is Already At Work •
There’s nothing simple about winning three consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division I softball championships and seven titles in the last 11 years. And it’s no simple task to finish the 2017 season with a 30-2 record to earn a No. 4 state and No. 11 national ranking.
But the Sheldon Huskies could not have established one of Northern California’s premiere softball programs and accomplished big things without paying attention to the little things. Despite the big picture of being a respected and feared program, head coach Mary Jo Truesdale — the only head coach that the Sacramento school has had in its 21 years of existence — and her talented players point to the fundamentals and basics of the game for their success.
“We work on fundamentals all of the time in practice and make sure that we can follow every little detail,” Truesdale said. “Big goals like league titles and section banners are great, but those don’t happen without taking care of the little things.”
The attention to detail starts with Truesdale’s Skills Checklist. An elaborate Excel spreadsheet covering all aspects of offense, defense and base running. Nearly 100 individual plays, situations and skills are covered multiple times. This is to ensure that the Huskies will be prepared for anything throughout the season.
“It is important to get us prepared at every position. Also, it establishes the team feel, chemistry and culture,” said senior captain Shea Moreno.
A three-year starter, Moreno is preparing in the hopes of claiming an SJS championship in each of her four years at Sheldon. But, she understands that establishing chemistry and focusing on fundamentals is essential to reaching that goal.
Moreno will be called upon to help oversee the chemistry in her final season at Sheldon. Like those before her who passed along the winning tradition and the legacy that Truesdale has asked each team. The senior class to leave to the next team. Moreno and her senior teammates will be charged with showing the younger players what it means to be a Husky softball player and team.
The versatile Moreno can play both third base and catcher. Also, she will alternate throughout the season to keep both herself and her teammates fresh and involved.
“It gives more people an opportunity to get into the game and get more playing time and more plate appearances,” she said of playing both positions. “Our focus is on the team.”
She will be the focus of many other teams after batting .430 with 43 hits, six home runs, and 38 RBI in her junior campaign. In her three seasons, Moreno has posted a .421 average with 118 hits, 84 runs and 85 RBI. Those numbers and experience alone would give opposing coaches plenty to worry about. But, with Sheldon, Moreno is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to returning experience.
In all, the Huskies return the bulk of a roster that batted .402 as a team and outscored foes 272-47 in 2017. In addition to Moreno, Juju Malana (.348) and Maddi Ayers (.308, 28 hits, 20 runs) are back for their senior seasons, and junior Vianna Barron (.409. 36 hits, 33 runs, 21 RBI) will be back in the lineup and on the field.
But perhaps the biggest returning boost will come from a trio that made an immediate impact last season as freshmen. Sam Oliver, Kiannah Pierce and Shelbie Caro combined for 95 hits, 64 runs and 63 RBI in their debut seasons. They could contribute even more offense as sophomores after the graduation of Maci Fines, Sarah Brown, and Taliyah Miles.
“It makes it extremely easy for me because we can get right to work,” Truesdale said of the Huskies’ returning talent. “We have built-in leadership and the expectations are clearly there. The newcomers just have to look around and follow in step.”
The new Huskies include catcher Iselia Pestana, a junior transfer from Cosumnes Oaks, and freshman A.J. Vasquez, who is no stranger to Sheldon softball. Vasquez is the younger sister of Jaciana Vasquez, a 2016 graduate who was part of two section championships.
Junior Grace Owen is not new to Sheldon and its high expectations. But, the right-hander will be new to the role of the team’s workhorse in the pitching circle. Owen posted a 7-0 record with a 0.44 ERA in 16 appearances. The San Jose State commit gave up only 26 hits in 47.2 innings pitched. Lastly, she will see her innings total increase greatly this season.
“She knows that she has been handed the (pitching) torch and she wants it,” Truesdale said. “She’s ready for this.
“She is calm in the circle and quietly aggressive. Her pitches are moving and she has a very effective changeup.”
Truesdale attributes Owen’s readiness to take the helm to a solid travel ball season. Additional, physical training work in the offseason. With a sound defense and Sheldon’s deep and powerful lineup. Owen has all of the tools necessary to be the next great Husky hurler.
Despite the wealth of returners, there will be some lineup juggling of the defense and batting order. Ayers is expected to anchor the middle infield at shortstop, but versatility and moving parts will be the norm for Sheldon. Owen will be the primary constant at pitcher, but both junior Kenedi Brown and Caro can also throw when needed. Oliver will play mostly at first base. But, Caro could see action there while getting plenty of plate appearances as a designated hitter. Malana and Pierce could share time at second base and in the outfield while Barron will field the hot corner when Moreno is catching.
All of those moving parts highlights the importance of fundamentals and working on the little things before the games get bigger. The Huskies have been working hard to check off as many of Truesdale’s skills and situations during practices, and early nonleague games including a Feb. 27 opener at Oak Ridge (the only program with more SJS titles  than Sheldon ) and the prestigious Queen of the Mountain Tournament in Pleasanton against top Bay Area competitors will serve to prepare Sheldon for when the games count the most.
The Huskies, under the guidance of Truesdale, have fortunately risen to the occasion when it matters most, claiming eight total section crowns as both favorites and underdogs. The first of Sheldon’s three consecutive SJS championships required help from other teams to get into the postseason as well as a wild comeback win en route to the final. In the end, though, the fundamentals and mental toughness that Truesdale emphasizes have led to many more victories than losses in the sport that she calls “a game of failure.”
“I feel blessed to have had the success with the program. But, there’s a lot of talent out there,” Truesdale said of following up a great season and section three-peat. “It’s not going to be easy to win again. There are lots of good teams out there, and it will come down to whoever finishes strong.”
No simple task for any team, but one that Sheldon will add to its checklist and work hard to achieve.