With A Freshman Phenom Pitcher And A Stacked Lineup, St. Joseph Notre Dame Softball Locked In On Winning — Until They Found Out They Won It All •
A consistent mark of good teams is the ability of every player to stay locked in the moment. One would be hard-pressed to find a high school softball team that exemplified that better than St. Joseph Notre Dame.
The Pilots of Alameda had to literally be told they’d just won the North Coast Section Division IV championship game.
“I think it was kind of a surprise to them,” St. Joseph coach Jason Shelton said with a laugh following his team’s 4-0 shutout of Del Norte-Crescent City on June 2 at Saint Mary’s College. “I think they were kind of like ‘That’s it? Do we get to hit again? Coach, I want to get one more at bat.’ That’s who they are. They just think about what’s happening right now.”
There was no mad rush to the middle of the diamond. No tossing of gloves or visors. The team collectively started to jog off and only began to figure it out as they neared the dugout.
“I was like ‘Wow, everybody’s cheering,’” freshman pitcher Caroline Evans said afterward. “So I turned to my first baseman, Danielle (Pohlson), and asked ‘Did we win?’”
Evans, despite her relative youth, may have been the most locked in of any player on the field that afternoon.
Not long after her first baseman confirmed that they won, her coached told her she’d thrown a no-hitter. She struck out five and walked none. Del Norte’s only two baserunners both reached on errors. She faced 23 batters and needed just 71 pitches.
“Someone just told me right now,” Evans said of her no-hitter after the game. It was believed to be her first of the season, but naturally she couldn’t confirm it. “I honestly don’t know. I don’t really focus on that — I just focus on getting the out. Out by out. Game by game.”
It’s an attitude that seemed to permeate the entire roster for most of the season. Three senior co-captains set a workmanlike mentality, a talented junior class fell right in line and four freshmen blended in perfectly.
“It starts with the leadership from the seniors,” Shelton said, referencing the trio of third baseman Tyson Gordon, catcher Samantha Shaffer and shortstop Sarah Mahler. “They really just brought the rest of the group together.
“Our expectations were high. … At a certain point, though, you really just rely on your players to develop a chemistry. They’ve got to like playing together. … This group cares a lot about each other. They’re just a fun bunch.”
Many, even the seniors, would agree that Evans was the lightning rod.
The freshman pitcher — who has already committed to the University of Utah — was a force for most of the year. She went 13-2 with a 1.09 ERA and 132 strikeouts (against just 17 walks) in 96.2 innings.
“My hand hurts,” Shaffer said with a chuckle when asked what it’d been like to catch her this season. “She has great movement on the ball. And she’s only a freshman, which is amazing. Even the umpire was like, ‘Wow, she’s really good.’”
Shaffer and a few other Pilots were familiar with Evans before she enrolled at St. Joseph. She would sometimes play travel ball with a few of them. “First game I played with her, her first at bat was a home run over the fence,” Shaffer said. “I was like, ‘Wow.’”
That’s right, she hits too. Evans went 3-for-3 in the championship victory, including a first-inning solo home run that hit the top of the fence and bounded over. It was her eight of the season. She also added a double in her second at bat and scored her 40th run of the season when Gordon singled her in with two outs.
Evans finished the year batting .569 with 27 RBI.
The Pilots hit .444 as a team and outscored opponents 266-71 en route to a 22-2 record. They would win their three playoff games by a combined score of 22-4. They finished the year on a 16-game winning streak.
The section title was the program’s second in three seasons. St. Joseph earned its first NCS banner with a 1-0 win over Cloverdale in the 2016 Div. V final.
After the win over Del Norte, Shelton was asked when he thought this team realized it could accomplish what it did. The response was not surprising.
“I don’t think they ever did really in some ways,” the eight-year coach said. “They never even really kind of talked about it. They really just approached every game like ‘Let’s go play a game and see what we can do today.’”
Quite a lot it would seem.