By Ray Hamill — With the cancelation of the high school spring sports seasons, local fans were robbed of another potentially thrilling softball season.
One year after the H-DNL remarkably won three of the six North Coast Section titles, expectations were high locally as the sport continues to build here.
Much of the recent success can at least partially be attributed to the growth of the game here in Humboldt, thanks in large part to the local travel team programs and the Humboldt Fastpitch Softball Association, which has done a good job providing many of these players with the fundamentals before high school.
And but for the coronavirus pandemic, there is little doubt this spring would have been another exciting one for local softball fans.
Here then is a look at five big stories we missed out on this spring, all of which we can now look forward to for 2021.
1 — Can Hoopa three-peat?
The Warriors are the two-time defending Little 4 champions after recently ending a nine-year run of dominance by St. Bernard’s and Ferndale.
They also went on to win a Division-V NCS title last spring, the program’s first since 2007.
The big question for the Warriors this year was could they make it three straight league titles and perhaps win a second straight section crown?
They certainly looked capable, with some key leadership behind the plate in Naschewen Hunsucker and more pitching depth than perhaps any other H-DNL team.
Hunsucker will graduate this year, but much of the stellar pitching is expected back next spring, and when it comes to softball that’s huge, so the Hoopa girls should be dangerous once again in 2021.
2 — Mack girls in college
There was little expectation this year of seeing the Panthers repeat their phenomenal success of last season, when they won the Big 5, the H-DNL tournament and a Division-IV section championship.
There was, however, a lot of excitement surrounding the numerous members of that team either playing in college or about to.
Five of last year’s starters — Jaycee Morais, Grace Rosebrook, Jada Bailey, Mikayla Minton and Lexi White — have taken or are about to take their playing careers to the collegiate level, a remarkable number for a local high school team.
Two others — Olivia Alves and Theresa Dickey — both play other sports in college, while an eighth starter from the 2019 history making team, Ashley Ballew, absolutely has the talents to play at that level is she chooses to after graduation next year.
All in all, that’s a fantastic achievement for a Panthers team that continues to impress almost an entire year after they last played together.
3 — What’s next for Eureka?
It’s been seven years since the Loggers last won a league title, finishing second in the standings on three occasions since then, including the past two years.
There was every expectation that this year could have been their year, with several key players returning and plenty of power at the plate.
Any hopes of that, of course, were laid to rest with the suspension of play, but the Loggers are not likely to go away.
With just three seniors on a roster of 17, the Eureka girls are going to be the team to beat once again in the Big 5 in 2021.
4 — Arcata ready to step up
After struggling for years, the Arcata Tigers welcomed a new coaching staff and a new era for the program with a breakthrough season a year ago, including a return to the NCS playoffs.
Like the Loggers, they have just three seniors on a roster of 17 this spring and should be back more dangerous than ever in 12 months times.
They will lose the services of standout senior pitcher Makayla Bernald, who will play at Mendocino College in 2021, but they have fantastic coaching and enough talent on the roster to remain competitive.
The 2021 season may be a ways off but it’s already shaping up to be an exciting battle in the Big 5.
5 — A new era at St. Bernard’s
After a long successful run in charge of the Crusaders, long-time head coach Alan Borges bid farewell after the 2019 season, handing over the reins to Anthony Ford.
In 14 years, Borges led the SB girls to five league titles and a pair of NCS championships.
The Crusaders had some key seniors on their roster this year, most notably MacKenzie Finck, and were the most likely contenders to knock off champions Hoopa.
Having the season canceled won’t help a young team’s growth, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about St. Bernard’s softball over the years, it is to never write the Crusaders off.
They have placed in the top two in league play in each of the past seven years, so expect the Crusaders to be as dangerous as ever in 12 months.