Mary Jo Truesdale booms of good cheer, and she would somehow find the joy in an exhaustive tax audit.
Or, perhaps, even crack a joke while awaiting a root canal, to the point the veteran softball coach at Sheldon High School might offer up a pair of pliers.
On Thursday evening at the Sacramento Softball Complex, Truesdale was all grins, soaking in the moment with a setting-sun backdrop as the Huskies defeated Tracy 2-1 for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship.
It capped a repeat title quest and marks the seventh time Sheldon has giddily hoisted the blue banner, all since 2002, and all with Truesdale in charge.
Truesdale has seen firsthand how far this sport has come, having played at Michigan State in the 1970s when Title IX, the law mandating gender equity, was coming into play. At Sheldon, she has expertly balanced a firm coaching hand with accountability and structure with laughter. The fondness between players and coach is genuine.
“Oh, it’s still so much fun doing this, and it’s exciting every time winning one of these,” Truesdale said. “And the kids make it so fun. Makes me feel young and alive.”
The Huskies (30-2) feed off the perpetual energy of Truesdale, their section Hall of Fame coach who has a résumé as decorated as any coach in any sport in regional history.
Sheldon capped the season with a 25-game winning streak, and the Huskies capped a dominating 5-0 tournament run with typical stellar defense and more strong pitching from ace Taliyah Miles.
Tracy (24-7) made it interesting in the seventh inning, scoring its run, but any chance of tying the score ended when second baseman Maci Fines threw out a runner at home as catcher Jessica Scott applied the tag.
That was for the third out, and the celebration was on.
Fines’ sister, shortstop Jordan Fines, also played exceptional defense, as did third baseman Shea Moreno, first baseman Vanessa Porto and outfielders Maddie Ayers, JuJu Malana and Jaciana Vasquez.
The Fines sisters are the anchors. They make difficult plays look routine. Maci, a junior, is committed to UC Santa Barbara. Jordan, a senior, is bound for Cal. Jordan Fines’ two-run single made it 2-0 in the third.
As confident and poised as the Huskies were, they admitted to a bit of tension when Tracy threatened to tie it. Nerves are good, Truesdale reminded them, as long as they respond appropriately.
“My heart was beating really hard, and I was a little scared at the end, but then Maci made that great throw,” Jordan Fines said, exhaling for emphasis.
The sisters said they have lived for this moment. They have been teammates since they were little. They have spent hundreds of hours in the family garage, hitting the ball, talking strategy.
“We’ve put in so much work,” Maci Fines said. “And coach has us prepared. She’s been great.”
Truesdale smiles plenty, but she’s not afraid to cry, either. She embraces all of her players, and at this time of year, the seniors a bit more.
“It’s such a wonderful group,” Truesdale said. “We had our last practice (Wednesday), without the seniors, who just graduated. I told the kids that the seniors will be gone and we have to play this last game for them. It was a powerful moment, for them and for me. Everyone choked up.
“We will have great memories from this season. We had a lot of fun, and that’s the main thing we’ll remember. If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t play this game. If it’s not fun as a coach, we shouldn’t coach. Ultimately, this is why we compete – to have fun. You can be tough on them, but you make it enjoyable, too.”