By Ray Hamill — It was another successful spring on the baseball fields for the H-DNL teams, with three of them in particular setting the standard.
No one impressed more than the Fortuna Huskies, who ended a long championship drought by winning the Big 5.
And they did it in thrilling fashion, coming from behind late in the final game of league play and winning the pennant on the final at-bat of the H-DNL regular season.
But the Huskies weren’t the only ones to impress in a season that saw the H-DNL remarkably win two of the six North Coast Section championships.
Not bad for a league with nine varsity baseball teams in a section that features 155 member schools.
The Arcata Tigers and St. Bernard’s Crusaders also had memorable seasons, as did the Del Norte Warriors and Ferndale Wildcats.
Under the guidance of longtime head coach Troy Ghisetti, the Arcata boys were arguably the biggest overachievers of the spring.
The Tigers pushed the Huskies all the way in what was the tightest Big 5 from top to bottom that we’ve seen in some time.
And that’s not all.
After being edged for both the Big 5 and Charlie Lakin Tournament championships, the Arcata boys responded in thrilling fashion on the way to winning the program’s third section title in six postseasons, a march that included back-to-back walk-off victories in the semifinal and final.
Not to be out-done, the Crusaders also won an NCS title — and a league title — and also were arguably the biggest overachievers of the year.
A young SB team was loaded with freshmen and sophomore talent and came together quicker than anyone anticipated, with the coaches and senior Tyler Dimmick in particular laying the foundation for that quick adjustment.
The Crusaders defeated the Wildcats in the NCS final, guaranteeing the H-DNL a section crown in either softball or baseball for the 21st consecutive season.
A young Ferndale team, which didn’t have any seniors, should be better next season and the Wildcats will fancy their chances of challenging for a league and section championship double after all the experience they gained this year on their run to the NorCal playoffs.
Del Norte, meanwhile, enjoyed an historic campaign that saw the Warriors post a pair of playoff wins for the first time ever.
A talented core group of multi-sport seniors led the way for the Warriors, who closed out the season in impressive fashion after struggling early in league play.
Co-PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
Cole Ayala and Cody Collins
Collins was named BIG 5 MVP and it was a deserved award, but there was little or nothing separating him from Ayala in terms of what they both meant to the team, and for my money it was an easy choice to make them co-Players of the Year.
Each was equally important to their team, and without either the Huskies would be still waiting to end a near half-century championship drought.
Ayala’s late-season heroics are the stuff of legend, while Collins was the most consistently dangerous bat in league play and also was outstanding at shortstop and on the mound.
Few will argue that the relentless duo were the best two players on the North Coast this spring.
COACH OF THE YEAR
In 2022 Ghisetti won his 400th high school game. Apparently he was just getting warmed up.
Arguably the best high school coach in the H-DNL — in any sport — Ghisetti may be coming off his best season yet, considering what his players achieved.
This team was not expected to compete for a league title in 2023 let alone win a section pennant, yet Ghisetti somehow coached his players up to a level that saw them come together as a complete team better than any other H-DNL program, and he had them believing in themselves more than any other team at the business end of the campaign.
Co-TEAMS OF THE YEAR
Fortuna and Arcata
This was Fortuna’s award all the way in the regular season, and you could make the argument the Huskies were the team of the decade considering the manner in what they achieved what they did.
But Arcata found a way to match that with a thrilling run through the playoffs.
Both sets of players played with a tremendous belief in themselves and an effervescent passion for the game.
And they both were a lot of fun to watch.