Tara Shabazz missed softball.
Known as Tara Peterson in her playing days, she was a Bee All-Metro standout at Florin High School before attending Sacramento State on scholarship.
Then other priorities took hold.
There was a master's degree to earn, a son to raise and a state-wide, nonprofit business to run.
But when her good friend, Tia Orr, told her last summer the softball coaching job was open at Sacramento High, Shabazz decided to make the leap.
"Softball has always been my passion, and I saw a challenge and, as a woman of color, an opportunity to work with girls in this community," said Shabazz, the executive director of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. "We have some very talented athletes. But they haven't had much exposure to softball, and many are unaware of the opportunities that are possible for them."
Despite facing numerous hurdles, the Dragons will host Bethel of Vallejo in today's Sac-Joaquin Section Division II outbracket playoff game.
It's only the Dragons' second softball playoff appearance and their first home playoff game in at least a decade.
"Tara kind of fell into our lap, and we feel very fortunate to have her," said Sac High athletic director Justin Gatling. "She's done a fantastic job of building the girls' confidence and getting them to believe. She relates well to the girls and is a terrific role model."
Sacramento went 12-10 overall and landed the Metro Conference's last playoff berth by beating second-place McClatchy 8-2 in the regular-season finale last Tuesday.
The Dragons did it despite having only a handful of players with travel ball experience; the sidelining of three senior starters to poor grades; and the loss of talented freshman shortstop Alahna Horne, a .382 hitter, with a broken hand just after a tough-luck 3-2 loss to Metro champion Rosemont on April 25.
The Dragons were hit hard again last Wednesday when Davina Jordan, the mother of Metro Conference MVP and team captain Jayda Jordan, died after a long battle with lung cancer.
"Although Jayda is dealing with a lot, she was out there Saturday at practice for her team," Shabazz said. "Everyone will be wearing something white (today) in memory of Jayda's mom."
Jordan, a center fielder and the team's leadoff batter, batted .353, scored 38 runs and had 22 stolen bases. Among the other key contributors are junior All-Metro Conference catcher Janiece Jackson (.562, league-leading 32 RBIs), sophomore Ciara Howard (.348, 16 RBIs) and freshman Tamiera Sanchez (.418, 14 RBIs).
Shabazz said senior pitcher Taylor Jones-Mendoza had some big performances in the second half of league play when the Dragons went 6-1.
Shabazz has tapped her friends Orr, a former Christian Brothers and UC Davis player, is her assistant to help work with her players.
Shabazz even took the Dragons to watch Sac State, the first time many had attended a college softball game.
With her son Hasani a freshman basketball and baseball player for Sac High, and with her decision to make a long-term commitment to the softball program, Shabazz moved from Elk Grove to Oak Park to be closer to the charter school.
"I feel this is what I'm supposed to be doing," Shabazz said. "These girls have a lot of struggles, a lot of negativity pulling at them, that sometimes it's hard to stay focused. I want these girls to have the same opportunities I had."
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.