After splitting innings with an elder teammate for two seasons, Danielle Sperry finally had her shot at carrying the load as the workhorse pitching ace for Ripon High’s softball team.
The junior led the Indians to what was arguably their best season in program history and was awarded Trans-Valley League Pitcher of the Year for the second time. She earned the honor her freshman year, and Mackenzie Gauden — who pitched for Washington University in St. Louis as a true freshman this past spring — was named the TVL’s top hurler in 2014.
This year, four Ripon pitchers combined to throw 195 1/3 innings, with Sperry accounting for 160 1/3 of them. She finished 21-5 with a 0.92 ERA and 173 strikeouts. Four of her losses were to powerhouse Hughson (12-0 league, 22-1 overall), and the other was to Division I playoff qualifier Pitman.
Sperry is one of six players from Ripon schools to earn all-league honors, with one — Ripon Christian’s Breanna De Jong — getting a spot on the All-Southern League first team.
“She had a really great season,” Ripon coach Robert Vernon said of Sperry. “She had us in every single game she pitched, no doubt about it. She’s a fierce competitor who always gave it 100 percent. When you have a pitcher like that it’s real easy to coach. All we had to do was scratch a few runs across and we’d have a good chance to win a game. She did an outstanding job for us.”
Sperry proved her worth in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs, twice outdueling Bear River standout Nerissa Long — heading to Oregon State — to lift the Indians (9-3, 23-8) to their first-ever section final. Sperry pitched a five-hitter in a 3-1 Ripon win that forced a winner-take-all against Hughson, which avenged its first and only loss of the season 7-2 and captured its fifth straight SJS Division V championship.
Hughson, also the TVL titlist, nearly swept the major awards. Pitcher Courtney Thornhill is the league’s Most Valuable Player after compiling a 21-1 record, 0.98 ERA and 156 strikeouts to go with a .565 batting average and 36 RBIs. Jessica Garcia (.535, 43 runs, 27 RBIs) is Most Valuable Offensive Player, and freshman catcher Megan Lutz is the Most Valuable Defensive Player.
Riverbank’s Cassi Ross was named Coach of the Year.
UC San Diego-bound middle infielder Darian Van Der Maaten (.479, 25 runs, 14 steals) was one of just two seniors for Ripon. She made the all-TVL team with junior catcher Cara Brown (.353), sophomore outfielder Felicia Ceja (.369, 16 extra-base hits) and slugging sophomore third baseman Mikaela Ferreira (.455, 13 doubles, 25 RBIs). Jennica Baldwin, Alex Gonzales and Taylor Jaquez made the honorable mention list.
“Darian had four good years and led off for us,” Vernon said. “She set the tone for us offensively.”
Now, the challenge is for the Indians to continue on their current path to prominence without their sparkplug at the top of the order. They’ll have their pitcher and two all-league sophomores — both of whom Vernon believes to have tremendous upside — back to lead the way.
“We forced Hughson to beat us twice in the section finals,” Vernon said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better effort from them. They were able to walk out of there as a runner-up with their heads held high, and we’re very excited for next year. The group definitely has some lofty goals for next year.
Ripon Christian (1-13, 3-14-1) struggled to compete in one of the section’s top small-school leagues but has one player represented on the all-league team.
DeJong mostly played at third base but also saw time at shortstop and pitcher. She rounded out the year with a .444 batting average, four doubles, two triples and a grand slam home run. Emily Van Vliet (.294) and shortstop/pitcher Bethany Silveira earned honorable mention.
Leah Lafata of co-champion Mariposa was voted MVP, and teammate Ashlynn Zurilgen is the Best Offensive Player. Waterford’s Kylie Ragsdale was named Pitcher of the Year. Mariposa topped Waterford 2-0 in the SJS Division VI championship game, while co-titlist Orestimba was eliminated in the first round of the more competitive Division V bracket.