Well, I didn’t see that coming.
It looked like the North Bay League softball title race was going to be a good one, but it took a major left turn Thursday, which means it might be even better than expected.
The Montgomery Vikings had set themselves apart early, putting up a 7-1 record and a 2-0 start in league with a roster that is loaded. They looked like the team to beat, until, that is, somebody beat them. Badly, in fact.
Cardinal Newman, playing on the Vikings’ home turf, ran roughshod over the early league favorites 23-3 Thursday when the game was called under the mercy rule after five innings.
The loss may or may not matter in the long run for Montgomery, but it will surely prompt some soul-searching for the Vikings and will just as likely whet the appetite of other contenders in the league who will now look at the Vikings as perhaps more vulnerable than otherwise thought.
When I talked to Vikings’ coach Mike Malvino on Wednesday, we chatted some about what looked like Windsor’s surprising loss to Maria Carrillo. Windsor is, after all, a team that can claim a legitimate shot at the champions’ banner and that result was a bit unexpected, at least from the Windsor camp.
In what now seems like eerie foreshadowing, he said, “They are like us; they can’t afford to lose to a team they should beat.”
And for good measure, he added, “The league has really come into parity.”
Has it ever.
Montgomery’s loss is likely to send minor shockwaves throughout the league. Coming into the season, it was shaping up to be a battle including the Vikings, Windsor and Rancho Cotate.
But consider Maria Carrillo. The Pumas beat a tough Windsor team in extra innings, battled Montgomery before falling 8-6 last week and went up 1-0 early against Rancho before falling 2-1 Thursday. They make a case for being in the conversation.
And if Newman can put the mercy rule on Montgomery, doesn’t that put them in the mix too?
Rancho, winners of the past two NBL titles, lost a slew of talent from last year’s squad, but always seem to be in the hunt. And no one should sleep on Windsor, a team with the goods to challenge for league supremacy, despite an early extra-innings loss to Carrillo.
Keeping major fluctuations in mind, let’s look at the early-season big dogs, but let us also remember that this league race is already producing some major surprises and games aren’t won on resumes or last year’s batting averages.
Let’s start with Montgomery. Before Thursday’s game, Malvino sounded confident.
“On paper, we should win this league,” he said. “We’re loaded.”
The Vikings return every major piece from last year’s squad that finished third in the North Bay League, but also went 3-1 against a loaded Rancho Cotate team while advancing to the North Coast Section Division 2 semifinals.
The offensive heart of the lineup early is coming, in part, from the bat of senior Sierra Shannoff. Shannoff hit .537 last year with a team-leading 13 homers. Shanoff is picking up where she left off, hitting .542 this season with four homers.
“They are walking her a lot, pitching around her,” Malvino said.