Benefield: Cloverdale softball team improves on greatness
The Cloverdale High School softball team went 19-1 last season and won the North Coast Section Division 5 title. They are better this year.
Last year, Eagles superstar Tehya Bird hit. 667 with 11 homers, 37 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .816 in 20 games. This year, she, too, is better.
But as phenomenal is Bird is, the Eagles are not a one-player wonder. Up and down the roster, the Eagles are a better squad than the team that won it all last year, going 23-0 in the regular season this year.
Their reward? They were bumped up a division and are now competing in Division 4 against the likes of Cardinal Newman and Arcata in the NCS tournament that starts Tuesday. The Eagles clearly have earned the respect of section officials, because in addition to the divisional promotion, they secured the No. 1 seed.
Despite their relative youth, Eagles coach Margaret Fitzgerald does not expect her team to be starstruck or even nervous.
“We are only a school of 350 playing with the big boys — Cardinal Newman, McKinleyville, Salesian, Arcata. You know, there are some good teams,” she said. “I tell them it’s an honor. They just look at it as a challenge, they are not overthinking it. They are not thinking ‘Oh no, we can’t do this, we’re going to lose.’”
That mentality might very well be a function of the Eagles simply not remembering how to lose — it hasn’t happened they fell 2-1 to Fort Bragg on May 3, 2018.
“I know there is a lot of tough competition, but I feel like we are on the same level as everyone,” junior catcher Lane Hughes said. “We’ll battle.”
The Eagles should be familiar with at least a couple other teams in their bracket.
They dispatched El Molino, the 12th seed, 8-2 on March 15 and beat Arcata, the 6th seed, 4-1, on April 27.
Cardinal Newman (19-4 overall, 10-0 in North Bay League-Redwood Division), got the No. 3 seed, and Big 5 champs McKinleyville (20-3, 11-1 in league) got the second seed. All three, as well as fourth seed Salesian College Prep, have first round byes.
And that may be the biggest hurdle the Eagles face all-post season: Downtime.
The last time the Eagles played was a week ago. With a first-round bye and steady rain in the forecast, the team could be faced with the same kind of scheduling issues that plagued just about every team in the Redwood Empire when once-in-a-generation rains soaked the early days of the season.
So Fitzgerald is bringing in some guest arms this week to give the team live pitching so that batters’ timing doesn’t fall off.
“You need live pitching to keep your mojo going,” she said.
The Eagles have not lacked mojo all season.
In their 23 games, the Eagles have scored 254 runs this season and allowed 30.
Think those numbers are gaudy? Consider Bird’s alone: The junior, committed to play for the University of Oregon post-graduation, is hitting .750 with 12 homers and 35 walks. She gets on base 84% of the time. In the pitcher’s circle, she’s won 23 straight behind a 0.66 ERA.