A Team Shouldn’t Need To Prove Itself After Any Undefeated Season, But Heritage Softball Is Ready To Take NorCal’s Best Shot
PICTURED ABOVE: Seniors Tianna Bell, Right, And Kasey Aguinaga
Heritage Softball made it look easy in 2021.
In a 25-0 season, the Patriots played just two one-run games. Opponents scored more than two runs only twice the entire season.
But it wasn’t all that easy.
With COVID-19 protocols still on the strict side, Heritage’s season was confined to Bay Valley Athletic League opponents only. That meant one round of five “non-league” games and then three more rounds of league play — and then a postseason tournament to determine the league champion. It represented a different kind of grind.
“I don’t think anytime you go undefeated it’s easy,” Heritage softball coach Ron Rivers said during a Patriots workout on a sunny, yet brisk Presidents Day afternoon in Brentwood. “I think it was a little harder because we had to play the same teams more than once. More than twice. Having to beat the same team three or four times, even five times, makes it tough.”
When the Patriots defeated Freedom-Oakley for the fifth time to close out their perfect season, the Falcons actually outhit them 11-10.
Pay a visit to the Heritage campus and spend some time watching the team prepare for the 2022 season. You will undoubtedly leave convinced that no team will be outhitting the Patriots this season.
The centerfield gate is left open during batting practice to allow for the ball shaggers to freely get to those hit to the other side.
Cal-bound senior third baseman Tianna Bell hit the ball over the fence several times during her round of hitting. Junior first baseman Alex Cutonilli followed her and took a few deep herself. This is routine, according to Rivers.
“We do that all day,” he said. “I have about nine girls who can hit it out of the park. But we also have girls who are line drive hitters and hit to all fields. We’re just well rounded right now.”
This should come as no surprise to anyone who closely follows Bay Area softball. The Patriots won’t be sneaking up on anyone. Having lost just three seniors from last season’s unbeaten team, Heritage finds itself a consensus Top 2 team in Northern California — right behind consensus No. 1 St. Francis-Mountain View.
The Lancers are coming off of their own undefeated season and return the great majority of their roster as well. Both St. Francis and Heritage began the season within the Top 5 of CalHiSports.com’s State Softball Rankings. Their best chance at meeting during the regular season will come in early April at the Livermore Stampede.
Meanwhile, Rivers is hoping to convince his players to forget all of that.
“Don’t read the clippings,” he said with a smile. “Don’t read the clippings. Play within ourselves and do the little things we know we can do. Our biggest challenge will be trying to stay focused.”
Senior pitcher Kasey Aguinaga won’t get caught up in who the Patriots are playing. She’ll just be happy it won’t be the same teams every two weeks.
“The batters started getting very used to me last year,” she said. “Luckily, I had a really talented defense behind me.”
Yes, hitters getting 25-30 at bats against her was a challenge, but the Boise State-bound pitcher sells herself short a bit. Aguinaga returns to the circle this year after having gone 18-0 with a 0.85 ERA in 2021. She struck out 164 over 99 innings and tossed a pair of no-hitters.
Once again, she’ll have a fantastic defense behind her with two more Boise State recruits holding down the middle infield — shortstop Taci Hasse and junior Skylar Stroh. Bell will be at third and Cutonilli at first.
Those four infielders combined for 139 hits, 123 RBI, 111 runs scored and 63 extra-base hits last season.
“We still have a lot to prove after going 25-0 last season,” said Bell, who led the Patriots with 46 RBI and 10 home runs. “But I think this team is ready for it.”
Bell is the unquestioned leader on the squad. Aguianaga referred to her as “The Big Dog on the field.”
Rivers will be counting on that leadership.
“She’s always hit the ball hard, but I think the biggest thing for her this year is her maturity,” the coach said of his four-year starter. “She’s really grown up and become a leader of this group.”
This will be Rivers’ 13th full season heading the Patriots. The former NFL running back took over the program in 2008 when John Rebstock stepped down after leading Heritage to the 2007 North Coast Section 2A East Bay title.
The Patriots have dominated the BVAL and been a fixture in the NCS playoffs since then, but they’ve only been to the final once. They reached the 2019 Division I championship and were shut out 2-0 by Foothill-Pleasanton’s Nicole May. May is currently the starting pitcher for Oklahoma, the No. 1 team in the country.
Rivers attests that he’s having just as much fun now as he did in those first years.
“I tell you one thing, I’m calmer than I used to be,” he said. “I used to yell a lot and get way overexcited. Now I’m just like, ‘Really? You guys are killing me right now. Catch the ball’ And that’s it, and we move on to the next one. My daughter tells me I’m getting soft.”
Barring injuries or some other unforeseen significant development, the BVAL dominance should continue this season.
“We go into the gym and look at the banners,” Rivers said. “I tell them, don’t be the class that doesn’t have their number up there.”
This team may be talented enough to add its number twice. And with the inaugural CIF regionals tournament taking place this year, three times is not out of reach either.
And if they make it look easy, remember that it’s not.