Can A Mix Of Talented Seniors And Explosive Youth Lead To Heritage Softball’s First NCS Title In More Than A Decade? •
With a brisk pace, the Heritage High softball players walked to practice with sweatshirt hoods cinched tight over their heads.
The rain came at them sideways from a particularly angry cloud that had swooped over the Brentwood campus just in time for the day’s final bell. Fifteen minutes later, with the rain stopped but wind gusts still lingering, the girls trudged their gear down to the varsity softball field and lined up for a jog around the soggy campus.
This wouldn’t be the idyllic hope-springs-eternal preseason practice for the Patriots. It was Friday, Feb. 15, and Brentwood had taken on close to 2.5 inches worth of rain over the past six days.
This practice was going to be about field maintenance. Could they rally to get the standing water off the infield corners and make their diamond playable for the team’s first scrimmage — which would host three other teams and was scheduled to begin in approximately 16 hours?
“They’re going to get some field work in,” Heritage softball coach Ron Rivers said with a sly grin. “We’ve got to try and get this field ready for tomorrow.”
They got it ready, and then they wore it out.
Patriots batters up and down the lineup sprayed line drives to all fields during a mid-afternoon session against Newark Memorial.
“I would definitely say our lineup is a strength,” senior center fielder Morgan Hess said during the practice a day earlier. “From 1-to-9 it’s really strong.”
Hess was a SportStars’ 2nd-Team All-NorCal selection in 2018 and is one of four Patriots beginning their fourth year on varsity. Filling out that quartet is shortstop Xiara Diaz (also a 2nd-Team All-NorCal pick) as well as pitcher Delia Scott and second baseman Juliana “JuJu” Sargent.
It’s a core that has helped lead Heritage softball to a 54-13 overall record, three straight co-Bay Valley Athletic League titles and three straight trips to the North Coast Section Division I semifinals.
And it’s tired of sharing titles and stopping one game shy of the NCS championship game.
“Definitely BVAL,” Diaz said. “We want to win BVAL. NCS is another one. And then any tournament that we’re in, really. We’re going to Reno this year and we want to bring that one home. And beating Foothill.”
Foothill-Pleasanton has ended Heritage’s season each of the past three years. And the Falcons, who boast All-State battery Nicole May at pitcher and Courtney Beaudin at catcher, aren’t going anywhere soon. Both are just juniors.
However, behind the experience and growth of their four-year seniors and an infusion of young talent, this could be the Patriots’ breakthrough season.
“I like just how competitive the group is all the way around,” Rivers said. “It seems like a good group.
“It’s that old saying that we look great on paper. We just need to fine tune and be able to play together and do the little things that will help us be successful.”
It will start with that senior core. And that offense.
Hess hit over .380 a season ago from the leadoff spot and stole 13 bases. The Idaho State University-bound outfielder starts the engine. And her leadership qualities are more on display each day.
“She lifts everybody up.” Scott said. “You can always count on her. She’s always doing the right thing.”
Rivers sees Hess constantly pushing to improve. It’s a theme he sees in all of his seniors as they prepare for their last stand.
Leaving Your Legacy
“We always talk about leaving a legacy,” the coach said. “‘What are you leaving behind?’ The reason we get good players here is because the seniors before did so much. That’s the big thing we always talk about.”
Diaz sits in the middle of the lineup and will play at Cal Poly after graduation. She hit over .475 as a junior, stole 15 bases and showcased plenty of pop. She homered twice in the Patriots’ 2018 NCS quaterfinals win over James Logan-Union City.
Diaz’s double-play partner and another top-half-of-the-order hitter, Sargent, will also head to Cal Poly next season.
The lineup will also get a big boost from incoming freshman Tianna Bell. Bell committed to the University of Washington as an eighth grader and will likely begin her Patriots career at third base.
“I heard about her last year,” Hess said. “I heard she committed in eighth grade and knew she should be pretty good. Then she got here and she’s insane. She’s so good. Her glove is so smooth; she’s very good.”
Diaz echoed that praise. “She’s going to be fun to watch for sure. A lot of power.”
But as good as the Heritage offense could be, the Patriots still need a rock in the circle. Scott’s junior season showed she had the potential to be that rock. She was outright dominant in BVAL play last season, going 9-1 with five shutouts that included a seven-inning perfect game against cross-town rival Liberty.
“She’s a kid who didn’t want to play in college at first,” Rivers said. “But now all the sudden she’s getting interest and she wants to. … She’s really striving for that now. She’s working on her schooling, and I’m really proud of her with that.”
Scott isn’t the overpowering presence like Foothill’s May, but when she hits her spots and uses her defense, she as good as any pitcher in the East Bay.
“My success (last year) basically was just trusting in my team,” Scott said. “I’m not a strikeout pitcher and have to rely a lot on my defense. I have to have trust in Coach Ron calling the pitch, to me trusting that pitch, to throwing it, to my team making the plays behind me.”
And this year?
“I want to work on my facial expressions on the mound. Coach Ron says I have a blank stare, but I swear that I care,” the pitcher said with a laugh.
Caring won’t be a problem for the 2019 Patriots. But from now until May, what can they do to make sure Foothill, or another East Bay power, isn’t one?
“We just need to start out early and keep on it,” Scott said.