Ripon's softball team accomplished all it could a season ago.
McKenna Daley and the other four seniors were ready for the next challenge — doing it all over again.
The Indians' second baseman was in the middle of several highlight moments in their milestone 2019, and with eight of nine starters returning they were likely favorites to repeat as Trans-Valley League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champions.
With a 24-2 record, Ripon was also named Cal-Hi Sports Division IV Team of the Year.
“I think we could have done the same exact thing,” Daley said. “It's a bummer we couldn't prove that. A lot of teams knew what we had coming back and they were definitely aiming for us. It's sad we couldn't prove ourselves to people again.”
And the Indians were well on their way before the rest of the 2020 spring season was called off. They started 5-0, 10-running four of those opponents while looking to repeat as champions of the Randy Watt Invitational in Colusa.
Daley was batting .500 with two doubles and three RBIs. She enjoyed a breakthrough junior year in which she hit .488 with six homers and 23 RBIs while earning a spot on the All-TVL team.
Daley was often the sparkplug who provided the big hit that got the rest of Ripon's power-packed lineup rolling, but her favorite memory is the game-winning jack that toppled rival Escalon in extra innings. The game was in danger of being postponed to darkness as it reached the bottom of the ninth. Daley crushed it on the first pitch, and the Indians celebrated their wild 9-8 victory. No slouch itself, Escalon went on to claim the SJS Division V title.
“Hitting the walk-off home run against Escalon was kind of a big deal,” Daley said. “They're one of our big school rivals and they were talking about calling the game.”
She remained hot through the postseason.
Against Liberty Ranch in the second round, she pounded a RBI double that tied the game at 1-1 in the third inning and accounted for two of the Indians' four hits as they won, 5-1. Ripon then blasted Calaveras 16-6 in the semifinal and again for the championship, 7-3. Daley had at least a hit in every playoff game, going 6 for 13 with two homers, five RBIs and six runs scored.
“They were like my family,” Daley said of her high school teammates. They became my best friends and I never played with a team I enjoyed more than with those girls.”
Daley will get to continue her playing career at the next level. Last month, she signed to play at the NCAA Division II level with Dominican University in San Rafael. She'll join former East Union standouts Shelby Cefalu and Danielle Ramos.
Daley, who will study nursing, will also be reunited with Juliana Santos, her old hitting coach who is in her second year as head coach for the Penguins.
“I just love her coaching style and the way she does things,” Daley said. “When I met the team I realized it was the perfect situation for me. The players were so sweet and supportive. They gave me their numbers to text them if I needed help with anything. I knew it was where I was supposed to be.”
Interestingly, she was recruited to play in the outfield. She's not the only member of Ripon's infield who is a natural outfielder — reigning TVL and Manteca Bulletin All-Area MVP Liliana Mejia filled a need at third base the past three years but will play in the outfield at Fresno State.
“It was tough at first but I liked it,” Daley said of playing out of position. “Coach had to switch some things out to make it work.”
Playing for longtime coach Robert Vernon was a good experience for Daley. He's the reigning Cal-Hi Sports Small Schools State Coach of the Year.
“I'm going to miss all the girls, but I'll especially miss Coach Vernon,” Daley said. “He just really had a special place in our hearts. He worked his butt off for us, contacting people he knew to get colleges to notice us. It's going to be hard not playing for him anymore.”