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Ripon falls to top-seeded Dixon in SJS semifinal
Robert Vernon coaches final game after 17 years with Indians
Ripon-Dixon softball
Dixon's Audrey Graham (37) is safe at second past an outreached Rhylee Magazinovic of Ripon. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

DIXON — It is time for a changing of the guard for Ripon High softball.

After 17 seasons at the helm with two Sac-Joaquin Sections to his credit, Thursday’s 6-2 SJS Division IV playoff road loss to No.1 Dixon marked the end of the road for Indians coach Robert Vernon.

Not only will Vernon be gone next season, but so will the only seniors on this year’s squad, four-year starters Rhylee Magazinovic and Caitlyn Campbell. There is one junior on this year’s team, and the rest are freshmen and sophomores.

“I take the blame as a coach,” Vernon said. “I didn’t do a good enough job to win this game. There were a couple of pitches here and there that maybe if we did something different we would have had a different outcome.

“Coaches take the blame for losses and players get the credit for winning. That’s the way it’s always been for softball and it’s never going to change from my perspective.”

The fifth inning was one that just did not go Ripon’s way. With the score tied 2-2 and two out with Campbell on third and Peyton Naranjo on first, the Indians (19-5) tried a delayed steal for Campbell, sending Naranjo to second. Naranjo drew the throw to second and on the throw down, Campbell broke for the plate and appeared to snake around the catcher and rake her hand across the plate. That was not the call, however, and the Rams (21-1-1) were about to pounce.

“You get to the games like this and you just hope the umps get it right,” Vernon said. “They have a tough job.

“From where I was standing it looked like Caitlyn may have got under that tag at home but when you get to these games sometimes it’s a loose screw on a helmet, an illegal pitch or some kind of call like that which changes momentum. But we were about to be chasing three runs so it’s hard to make a case for that being a turning point.”

Dixon tallied three runs in the bottom of the fifth behind a two-run home run by Brianna Humphries (home run, three RBI), and another run due to an error. The Rams got the first six runners on base in the frame before Mims Caratachea fanned two batters in a row and induced a pop fly to Magazinovic to stop the bleeding.

“I knew I had to come on strong,” Caratachea said. “I needed to finish that inning better than I started it and keep any more runners from scoring.”

Vernon realized he had just seen a big-time performance from his sophomore hurler.

“She kept us close there,” Vernon said. “We had already given up that three runs in that inning.

“All the kids that are coming back are seasoned players and there is some pretty decent talent that may be coming in from the eighth-grade class in Ripon. So I’m thinking as long as you have pitching like that you will have a good chance to be successful.”

Campbell (2 for 2, two doubles, two stolen bases) got the Indians on board in the first inning. She laced a one-out double to right, stole third and came home on Naranjo’s groundout for an early 1-0 Ripon lead.

“Ending the season, my heart is very full,” Campbell said. “I have so much love for all these girls and all the coaches and everything. We have a very young team and I have seen a lot of the girls grow not just as softball players and athletes but as people.

“I think a lot of them will go very far not only in high-school softball and travel softball but in the real world. I am very thankful to have been able to play all four years with my best friend. Rhylee and I have been playing since we were little back to rec ball. I would like to thank the coaching staff especially Vernon and Heath (Thomason), because they have been here and taught me so much since I was a freshman.”

While Magazinovic was uncharacteristically kept off the bases, she did her usual job of anchoring the infield from her shortstop position.  

“This was quite the season,” Magazinovic said. “This team surprised me more than any other team I have been a part of. They are all so good and have improved so much right before my eyes.

“I am very glad I got to be a part of this team for all four years and I hope our winning does continue.”

Caratachea doubled in Alana Hernandez in the fourth inning to tie the game at 2-2. Ava Brocchini led off the seventh for the Indians with a double, but was left stranded there to end the game. Ripon stranded four runners in scoring position.

Hernandez is part of the Indians future. The freshman catcher went 3 for 3.

“I am really looking forward to playing with everyone again,” Hernandez said, “There is no drama, nothing like that. Everyone gets along so well, we all connect and it’s just a really great feeling because even if I make a mistake I know they will be right there with me.

“Today all I could think about was doing good for the team. I wasn’t thinking about myself at all, I just wanted the best outcome for the team.”

Dixon coach Matt Boykin knew he had been in a tough game.

“It was a battle the whole way,” Boykin said. “That Campbell kid can really swing it and both of those doubles she hit were lasers out there.

“I am glad we had a four-run lead when she came up to bat that last time.”

The Rams face No. 2 Marysville on Saturday in the SJS championship game and will move on to the NorCal playoffs next week.