Sheldon played like a team that has won the last two Sac-Joaquin Section Division I softball championships for the first six innings of Tuesday's outbracket opener against visiting Napa.
With a combination of speed and power, sure-handed defense and dominating pitching by sophomore Brooke Coyne, the Huskies led by nine runs with an inning to play.
Napa then strung together six hits and used a couple of Sheldon errors to close to 9-7 before freshman shortstop Jordan Fines scooped up a grounder and beat, by an inch or so, the Napa runner for the last out at second base.
While the win advances Sheldon to Saturday morning's still single-elimination round of 16 against West of Tracy at the Sacramento Softball Complex, followers have to wonder which team will show up: The inexperienced, uncertain one or the one that can play beyond its years.
Sheldon has nine underclass players on its 16-player roster.
"This game kind of summed up our whole season," said center fielder Erika Lane, the Huskies' lone senior.
Sheldon (14-12), the second seed from the Delta River League, entered the game against Napa (17-11) barely over .500.
"Youth can help you or hurt you," said Sheldon coach Mary Jo Truesdale. "We played Sheldon softball for six innings, then we lost our focus a little."
They almost lost a handful of players, too.
Coyne seemed on cruise control having retired 11 Indians in a row until Napa's Sara Weildraayer hit a smash single off her face with two out in the fifth inning.
Coyne got her glove up enough to prevent major damage to her mouth. Though clearly shaken, she retired the next four batters. But in the seventh another smash ricocheted off Coyne's right leg for a run-scoring hit. She stayed in the game.
Then, Lane and mighty mite junior second baseman Zamari Hinton a wizard throughout the game with her glove collided on a popup that fell between them in shallow center field. Though both went down, they, too, stayed in the game.
Fines went 4 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. Junior first baseman Anessa Kaylor, hitting .500 with 37 RBIs, homered over the center field fence to ignite a five-run third.
Lane is a four-year varsity player who now calls teammates "my little sisters."
Last year, Sheldon backed into the playoffs on the last day of the season and, like this year, had to win an outbracket game.
Sheldon outscored its six playoff opponents by a combined 75-9 and beat league rival Ponderosa 8-1 in the title game.
"Last year's playoff run was incredible," Lane said. "So we feel we have a lot to prove. My little sisters have some big shoes to fill."
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.