What a sports year
Published: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 10:03 a.m.
It seems every year is a good year for south county sports. Every year produces its share of outstanding teams, outstanding athletes, champions and near champions. It is just that some years are better than other years.
Then there was 2012, a year like no other. Not all the news was good and not all was understandable, but taken as a whole, 2012 was not just a good year — it was a great year.
The year was elevated out of the realm of just ordinarily good to great by a group of 13 Little Leaguers, their coaches and their families. The Petaluma National Little League's run to and through the Little League World Series was the stuff of legends. A big enough story to move off the sports pages onto the front pages of newspapers throughout the Bay Area and to the top of television and radio broadcasts.
It easily made the list of the Argus-Courier's top news stories of the year and was a no-brainer pick as Petaluma's top sports story of the year, probably the decade and possibly the century.
For those who slept through the year or were visiting the moon, what they Petaluma National All-Star team did was become the first Petaluma Little League team ever to reach the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
Once in the World Series, they captured the nation's attention by the way they played the game, conducted themselves and by their fortitude. They won five games and lost just two, finishing third in the world and defeating Panama in a meeting with the International Division's runner-up team.
But, it was in defeat that they made their most lasting impression, rallying from 10 runs down in the last inning of the U.S. championship game to force extra innings against the Goolettsville, Tenn. All-Stars. Petaluma lost in extra innings, but the comeback will be forever remembered by those who followed their exploits.
When they returned home, it was to a celebration that lasted for two months, highlighted by a ticker-tape parade through their hometown viewed by an estimated 20,000 fans.
2012 was a year that Kempton Brandis, Blake Buhrer, Logan Douglas, Quinton Gago, Danny Marzo, Bradley Smith, Hance Smith, Porter Slate, Cole Tomei, Andrew White, Dylan Moore, James O'Hanlon, Austin Paretti, manager Eric Smith, coach Mike Slate and coach Trevor Tomei will never forget and the rest of the community will long remember.
But there were other memorable accomplishments in the year that just passed.
On a top-10 list, in no particular order, would be:
New home for Petaluma National Little League. The grand opening of a new baseball complex for the Petaluma National Little League would have captured even more attention had it not been overshadowed by the accomplishment of the league's own all-star team.
Forced to move by a planned commercial development from its home on the former Kenilworth Junior High School site, the National League played its first season in a new home on the other side of town on the Petaluma Junior High School campus.
The new complex — three diamonds, a turf area and a surrounding running/walking track — was the result of cooperation between the shopping center developer, the City of Petaluma, the Petaluma City Schools District and the Little League. It was built with the help of many donations and the labor of countless volunteers.
History for Casa Grande girls basketball. Until the Little Leaguers' amazing run, the team that most captured the admiration of Petaluma sports fans was the Casa Grande High School girls basketball team.
The Lady Gauchos had a historic season. They won more games than any other Casa Grande girls team ever (31), played undefeated through the Sonoma County League season and the league tournament, finished second in the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs and became the first Casa Grande girls basketball team ever to reach the NorCal playoffs.
The heart of the team were three senior friends, high-scoring Gretchen Harrigan, spectacular point guard Stephanie Sack and hard-working Desi Zidan.
It is now Steve Ellison Field. Just before the final Petaluma High School football game of the season, the football/soccer field on the school campus was renamed for three-decade football coach and teacher Steve Ellison.
The popular teacher, coach and friend, coached football at Petaluma High School for 33 years, the last 31 as head coach. His Petaluma record was 204-126-7. His overall record was 218-173-7.
In his final year of coaching, his Trojans won the Sonoma County League championship, were undefeated during the regular season and reached the North Coast Section semifinals.
One year, two coaches. Petaluma High's basketball program continued to be in turmoil following the resignation of head coach Rick Krist.
A committee recommended the hiring of long-time Marin County coach Scott Davis as Krist's replacement, and he was hired in July.
It was soon revealed that he was on sanctions from the NCAA for alleged recruiting violations when he was head coach for the girls program at Cal Poly Pomona.
Davis resigned without ever coaching a game for the Trojans, and, just a week before the start of practice, John Behrs, last season's junior varsity coach, was named head coach.
Championship season for St. Vincent football team. St. Vincent High School started the season with just two candidates for its front line. By the end of the year, the Mustangs were effectively rotating 12 players onto the offensive and defensive fronts.
Between the two and the 12, St. Vincent compiled a 10-3 record, shared the championship of the new North Central II/Bay Football League, won six games in a row when it most counted and reached the North Coast Section Division 5 championship game.
Quarterback Mitch Sheppard broke most school passing records, junior Derek Murphy rushed for more than 1,000 yards and Michael Carroll keyed the defense behind the dominating offensive and defensive lines.
New leagues. Beginning with fall sports, Petaluma and Casa Grande high school sports teams went their separate ways.
Casa Grande moved into the North Bay League, along with Windsor, while Elsie Allen and Piner joined Petaluma in the Sonoma County League. Casa Grande and Petaluma will continue to play in most sports, but not football; however, the contests will be non-league games.
The St. Vincent football team also played in a new league, joining a newly formed North Central II/Bay Football League with four teams from the East Bay. The Mustangs promptly won a part of the new league's championship, sharing honors with California School for the Deaf.
All other St. Vincent sports teams continue in the traditional North Central League II.
St. Vincent Softball team NCS champions. The St. Vincent softball team dominated small-school softball in the Redwood Empire.
The Lady Mustangs were 17-9 on the season, with the majority of their losses coming against much larger schools as they prepared for the North Central League II season and the North Coast Section Division V playoffs.
They then breezed through both their own league and the playoffs, winning the NCS title with a 5-0 beating of College Prep from Oakland in the championship game. Hayley Olsen allowed just one hit in the championship game.
The Lady Mustangs played exceptional team defense and hit from top to bottom in their lineup, led by catcher Ursyla Baumgarten, the league's Most Valuable Player.
Near miss for T-Girls. Petaluma's T-Girls came within a suicide squeeze and a wild pitch of winning the North Coast Section Division 2 championship, losing to Concord, 2-1, in the championship game.
Dana Thomsen pitched a one-hitter in the championship game, but allowed two runs on a squeeze bunt and a wild pitch in the first inning and Petaluma, hitting into a near gale-force wind, could not muster enough offense to bounce all the way back.
Petaluma was a sparkling, 24-4, for the season, and won the Sonoma County League championship with an 11-1 record. They used strong pitching from Thomsen and Gina Barnacle, combined with hitting and leadership from seniors Chelesa Martin, T.J. Watts, Allie Corids and Ashley Thiede for a strong season that came up just one run short.
Gauchos run to state. Sonoma County League track was dominated by a pair of Casa Grande High School boys.
After leading Casa to the SCL championship, hurdler Adam Lundquist and jumper Brycen Poarch both qualified for the CIF state championships, with Lundquist placing 10th in the high hurdles in school record-setting time. Both senior Lundquist and junior Poarch broke school records.
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