The Del Norte softball team returns eight of its nine starters who captured a 3-1 victory in the North Coast Section championship game the last time the Warriors took the field together. That victory was eventually vacated by the NCS after an appeal by St. Mary’s that claimed Del Norte was engaged in impermissible batting practice within two hours of the game.
“We talked about it,” said Del Norte head coach Pablo Lorenzi. “I just told them, ‘Don’t come away with the attitude that you came in second place because you won it where you are supposed to win it —which is out on the field. Yeah they got the banner, but so what? In my mind we won, and the best way to redeem yourself is to get back to the championship.’”
No matter how you look at it though, the unprecedented decision by the NCS was a difficult pill to swallow for the Warriors.
“It was honestly really heartbreaking for us,” said senior thirdbaseman Brook Nolan. “I know a few of us cried because we all worked so hard and we all think we won that game fair and square. Like we all say though, we are coming back this season and it is not getting taken from us. That is all there is to it. Getting first in NCS was huge for us, so getting it taken away was hard. But it gives us a boost for this season, to work even harder and come back.”
Most of Del Norte’s team from last season is back in 2018 with only 2017 senior Chloe Luna leaving the starting lineup from last year.
The Warriors will return three All-HDN players from last year in seniors Nolan and Payten Healy, along with junior pitcher Allison Douglas. Senior catcher Tvshiina Jacobs was named an honorable mention selection last season, but earned a white star during her sophomore season in 2016.
“We have all been playing together for so long, so we all know each other and we all know how we work,” Nolan said. “Most of the infielders have been playing together for years on end, so we are all pretty close as a group. It is a pretty strong team.”
With most of its players returning, Del Norte expects the strength of its team to be defense once again, after allowing just 82 runs all season long last year while going 19-11 overall. The Warriors seem to be playing well in the field through preseason practices this year as well.
“Our defense is spot on; it is pretty much flawless,” Nolan said. “No one is making mistakes, we are all talking and communicating. It is good positive vibes out on defense.”
Douglas will return this season to the pitching mound, where she was a workhorse for the Warriors last year. Douglas pitched every single pitch of the season for Del Norte last year, finishing with 30 complete games.
Although the Warriors junior proved capable of carrying that heavy load, Lorenzi said he is hopeful that Douglas will have a little bit more help this season, with senior Antonia Alcala also working on her pitching form this year.
“I’m hoping that I can get her to throw maybe three or four innings just to relieve some pressure,” Lorenzi said. “When Antonia is on form she throws a heavy ball. It is just a matter of being consistent, and then getting the live action in. Last year was pretty stressful for Ally because she knew that she had to pitch every single inning. I told her I want her to still come out with that same attitude this year though because you never know what is going to happen.”
Offensively the Warriors struggled to score at times, especially against elite pitching. But Del Norte is bringing back all of its biggest bats from last season, including Healy, who hit a staggering .496 with 13 RBI and eight extra base hits in just 12 Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 league games. Nolan and Douglas also both hit comfortably above .300 in league games last year.
Along with the goal of returning to the NCS championship game, Del Norte is also focused on winning an HDN Big 5 league championship this season. The Warriors have finished in second place for the past three years in a row. Although Fortuna has won the last four Big 5 championships, the Huskies lost their ace pitcher and four-time league MVP Hailey Dolcini to graduation, which will likely leave the Big 5 wide open this year.
“It is going to be a lot tougher because the competition is a lot better,” Lorenzi said. “There were a lot of young teams last year. McKinleyville was young last year, and they still have two or three of their pitchers, Fortuna still has another girl that can throw the ball well, and Arcata has a little lefty that has improved a lot. So it’s not like it will be a cake walk. I think it will be tough for us all season, but if we rise to the occasion we will do what we need to do to get the job done and win the league.”
Del Norte is scheduled to kick off its season today with a road game in Brookings starting at 4 p.m. The Warriors will then head to Redding for the Anderson Tournament on Friday and Saturday.
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .