By Ray Hamill — Saturday signaled a new beginning for the Little 4 in softball, and perhaps the dawn of a new era for the conference rivalries.
After a decade of looking up in the standings at both St. Bernard’s and Ferndale, the Hoopa Warriors and South Fork Cubs are now setting the tone, and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.
On what was an historic weekend for the most isolated conference in the entire North Coast Section, both the Warriors and Cubs won an NCS crown, giving the Little 4 a sweep of the small schools championships this season.
It was also the first time the H-DNL has ever won two NCS softball championships in the same year.
Hoopa did it the hard way, going on the road to knock off No. 1 seed St. Vincent de Paul in Petaluma for the Division-V title and rallying for a 4-3 win with two late runs.
South Fork rolled to a far easier 18-0 win at home to Laytonville for the Division-VI championship.
Never has the Little 4 stood so tall.
But this time it wasn’t the usual suspects walking the walk.
This time it was the perennial underdogs.
For nine seasons between 2009 and 2017, South Fork and Hoopa were no match for the conference frontrunners, with Ferndale or St. Bernard’s taking the title every year and occupying the two spots on seven occasions.
Last season that began to change, with the Hoopa girls rolling to an undefeated league campaign and winning the pennant for the first time since 2008.
They proved that was no fluke with a second straight title this spring, before capping a memorable season with an NCS crown this weekend.
And the South Fork girls aren’t too far behind.
This spring, for the first time since 2008, they climbed out of the Little 4 basement to finish third in the standings, and followed that with a second straight NCS title on Saturday.
With the make-up of both teams, and some cornerstone players likely in place for the next few seasons, they both now could be the conference frontrunners for the foreseeable future.
Both teams have outstanding young pitching — Hoopa freshman Savannah Colegrove and South Fork sophomore Joslin Todd — and rosters of players who now know how to win, and even expect to.
Both teams also epitomized the total team concept as well as anybody on the way to a championship this weekend, and that augurs well for these players going forward.