Valedictorians and friends epitomize Fortuna/Hoopa rivalry

Submitted photo – Valedictorians, friends, teammates and rivals, Fortuna’s Libby Johnston, left, and Hoopa’s Nae-Rew Martin at Fortuna on Friday.

By Ray Hamill — As one longtime local coach put it to me after Friday’s thrilling softball playoff showdown at Fortuna High, this was a great reminder of what high school sports can offer.

The host Huskies won an all-local Division-4 quarterfinals against Hoopa in a well-played game as good as any postseason game we’ve seen in the area this spring.

Two great pitchers — Fortuna’s Kylee Fennell, who will play at College of the Redwoods next season, and Hoopa’s Tatianna Colegrove — served up an entertaining pitchers’ duel with some outstanding defense backing both of them.

In the end, it was the Huskies who won out, when senior Libby Johnston hit her second two-out RBI single of the game to score pinch runner Olivia Hayes in the bottom of the seventh for a thrilling 2-1 walk-off victory.

The game was great, but that’s not the only thing that made the occasion special.

The first thing I noticed — as I always do at playoff games in any sport here on the North Coast — is how many players from other schools show up to take in the action and support their H-DNL rivals.

Something else was brought to my attention afterwards by longtime Fortuna assistant coach Dennis Rosser, and that was the close bond between some of the opposing players.

Most notably, Fortuna’s Johnston and Hoopa senior Nae-Rew Martin, both starting shortstops on Friday, have been teammates on travel ball teams for years and have developed a good friendship.

Both are also valedictorians for their respective schools and both have been described by coaches as team leaders who lead by example.

Rosser added that the Fortuna coaches have the utmost respect for the Hoopa program, which is annually one of the most competitive in the entire H-DNL, and that they consider the Warriors to be one of the elite teams in the league.

Ray Hamill/ – Libby Johnston in action during Friday’s game.

Nae-Rew Martin

The games between these two schools are always entertaining and closely-fought battles.

Fortuna won all three showdowns between them this season, but all three were decided by two runs or less.

Friday’s loss ended the season for the Warriors, but Johnston and the Huskies will try to keep going when they play a North Coast Section Division-4 semifinal at top seed Cardinal Newman on Tuesday evening.

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