Longtime Sheldon High School softball coach Mary Jo Truesdale is fond of handing out marbles to her team after victories as little keepsakes. But Tuesday afternoon, before the second-seeded Huskies downed No. 9 Vacaville 7-6 in the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, Truesdale accidentally dumped a bunch of the marbles onto the floor of her classroom. The orange marbles covered the floor at the base of her desk, some rolled halfway across the room.
“I said to Coach (Truesdale), ‘You lost all your marbles,’ and we both paused and started laughing because I didn’t mean it that way,” said junior center fielder Jaciana Vasquez. “Those marbles mean a lot to us. It’s tradition. I keep mine in a cup I made in ceramics class. It has ‘Sheldon’ written on it and a heart.”
Vasquez and the rest of the Huskies (25-7) won all the marbles after they beat Vacaville High School 4-0 for their sixth section title Wednesday at the Sacramento Softball Complex. It was the program’s first title since 2012.
Vasquez provided the decisive hit in the fifth inning, a line drive up the middle to score Vanessa Porto and Shea Moreno, who doubled to put runners on second and third with one out.
“I had already gotten two hits off of her (Bulldogs starting pitcher Katie Kibby) so I knew she’d throw me some off-speed stuff,” Vasquez said. “She threw a changeup and I stayed back on the ball and hit it to center.”
Huskies starter Gabby Montaie threw a three-hitter despite nursing a sore shoulder. She avoided having to pitch a second and deciding game had the Bulldogs beaten the Huskies in the first.
“It’s been really sore from being overworked,” Montaie said of her right throwing shoulder. “It affected my velocity, but this was my last high school softball game and I knew I could still go.”
That’s what senior leadership is all about, Truesdale said after the game in between posing for pictures at the plate. Montaie and Brooke Coyne were the only two seniors on the squad this season and Truesdale has three freshmen, four sophomores and six juniors making for one of the youngest Huskies teams to win a section banner.
“This is easily my youngest group, but I had a lot of younger players on the 2002 (first) section title team and this group reminds me of them,” Truesdale said. “I call them ‘the Young and the Restless,’ and they had a lot of battles this year and made a lot of errors throughout the season. But once the playoffs started, they played errorless ball.”
Sophomore pitcher Taliyah Miles pinch hit in the fifth inning after Vasquez’s single and ripped a 3-2 pitch over the fence in deep left-center field to cap the scoring. That lineup change earned Truesdale her own marble, and for the title game she handed out silver marbles the size of golf balls.
Truesdale has been coaching for decades and came from Elk Grove High School to Sheldon when it opened in 1997. At the end of each season, especially after winning a section title, she’s often asked if she’s stepping down. With such a young team led by talented underclassmen such as Vasquez, Miles, Porto, Moreno and Maci and Jordan Fines, Truesdale just smiled when asked again if this was it – her last season.
“Nope, I’ll definitely be back,” she said.
She certainly hasn’t lost any of her marbles.
Division II – Defending champion Benecia High School pounded out 14 hits to down Elk Grove, The Bee’s No. 1-ranked team, 8-2. The Thundering Herd lost to Benecia 2-1 on Monday and had to win two in a row to take its second section title this decade.
Division III – Pioneer of Woodland needed just one victory Wednesday to wrap up its third consecutive section title but ran into a buzz saw in East Union of Manteca. The Lancers ran out of the loser’s bracket to beat the Patriots 12-1 in a 10-run shortened Game 1 and 17-3 in Game 2 to win their first section title since 2004.
Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @editorwriter001.