Now it feels like a championship return.
A year after slogging through an 11-win rebuilding campaign, Tim Kiernan has a familiar bounce to his step to match his incomparable confidence. He returned as the softball coach at Sacramento City College last year after a 13-year break to mentor the school's women's golf team. He fields a slugging/defensive group that resembles the juggernauts of the Panthers' storied past.
Sac City belted visiting De Anza 8-0 on Sunday afternoon in a mercy-shortened, six-inning Northern California Regional playoff game to wrap up the series in two games.
Ranked second in Northern California by the California Community College Fast Pitch Coaches Association, the Panthers (33-5) advance to a Super Regional in Shasta next weekend. It's the 22nd time Kiernan has guided a state tournament team. Sac City under Kiernan won state titles in 1988, '92 and '96 with six runner-up showings.
The Panthers won the state title in 2004 under Bob Maglione. They are the last NorCal team to achieve the feat.
Kiernan is back because he's hooked on coaching, player development and winning. His 2009 women's golf team is the only one from Northern California to win a state championship. Kiernan is pulling double duty with no intention of easing up.
"Good to be back," said Kiernan, in his 31st season overall coaching at Sac City. "Last year was a tough year. We worked hard to get those 11 wins. I really like this team. We can do a lot of things."
Sac City can pound teams with power as nine players have crushed home runs this season, and ace Ashten Welch leads all NorCal arms with 205 strikeouts. The Panthers also prevail with line drives and great defense. Sunday marked Welch's ninth shutout, a two-hitter, as the All-State performer moved to 27-3.
No Panthers homered against the Dons of Cupertino, though Megan Winton had four hits and scored each time, and All-NorCal pick Molly Ryan had three hits, including two doubles, and two RBIs. The defense includes a Division I prospect, shortstop Mickey Loveridge, and first baseman Heather Oakley.
Sierra 9, Monterey Penin- sula 0 The Wolverines (29-10-1) won their NorCal Regional in Rocklin in two games as Maddie Phelps tossed a three-hitter and Tayana Mata hit two run-scoring triples.
Ranked seventh in Northern California, Sierra now seeks to reach a Super Regional final for the fifth time in nine years under veteran coach Darci Brownell.
The Wolverines play Big 8 Conference rival Sac City on Friday at 4 p.m.