In what seems to be a customary tradition these days, the Rancho Cotate softball team once again won the North Bay League Championship. After thrashing rival Cardinal Newman 7-0, the girls clinched another NCS title and a first-round home playoff game this Tuesday against Alameda High School.

This was a big win for the Cougars, who had a couple of tough losses leading into this game. Winning the NBL is something Tracey Guerrero’s girls pride themselves on, so coming away victorious was exactly what the doctor ordered. Not only were they victorious over a hated rival, but the girls had one of their most well-rounded games in a while, scoring 5 runs in the bottom of the first inning and shutting down the Cardinals the rest of the way.

“It feels great to be able to do it for the school,” Guerrero said. “Winning these back-to-back pennants is something these girls have been working for, especially after the Covid year, and even last year of not really naming a champion, it’s great the girls are able to enjoy that.”

Considering all that the world’s been through these last two plus years, winning for sure makes everything that much sweeter. So many seniors lost their last year during the Covid shutdown, then last season there was not an NBL champion though games were played. So essentially, this is the first time in three years an actual champion has been named and the Cougars are back-to-back NBL Champions, though there’s a two-year gap between the titles.

Regardless of how the girls won it, it was clear this trophy means a whole lot to the seniors. Some like Gabby Schenone are getting to experience a title for the first time, while Tiare Guerrero was happy to officially be back on top after having the last couple of years spoiled due to Covid.

“It’s great because the only normal season I had was my freshman year due to Covid and everything, so going into playoffs we’re super excited and we hope to finish this season off strong,” Guerrero said. 

“My sophomore year I actually tore my ACL,” Schenone said. “So, I couldn’t play sophomore year and then junior year I wasn’t fully recovered, plus Covid. To have this full year feels amazing for me because I had to sit out and watch for so long. But I’m sure the rest of the girls feel the same; we get to do what we love and kind of sad that it’s almost over.”

It’s clear just how happy the girls are to be able to play a full season again. This group has had to endure so much over the last two years, so knowing that they will have an opportunity to finally play in the postseason again is a blessing. No matter how far they go, this season will shape the girls in ways they never could imagine.

Both Guerrero and Schenone praised right fielder Paige Vraneswich for her catch in right field. Vraneswich robbed Newman third baseman Mackenzie Dennis of what would have been her third homer of the season. This was one of the best plays we’ve seen all year and one that propelled the Cougars in the bottom half of the inning. 

“Paige’s catch was the catalyst for that big first inning,” Coach Guerrero said. “It’s what fired up the girls and what got them going to score those five runs.”

One goal the Cougars had coming into the game was to score every inning and win all seven innings. The girls, at times, can start strong then tail off towards the end of the game, so getting the five runs was a great start towards accomplishing that goal. Though the girls didn’t quite accomplish what they set out to do, Guerrero was still happy with how her teammates performed. “We always start off strong and we tend to fall off towards the middle of the game,” Guerrero said. “Starting off strong as a team is something that we want to do as a team. Our team goal we talked about was to win and score every inning, unfortunately we didn’t score every inning, but we made sure to get another two. Our pitcher Lexi had our backs, and our defense also had our back.”

“Just communication and encouragement in the dugout helps us finish the games off strong,” Schenone said.

Now that the Cougars are league champions, they get to play in something the girls haven’t experienced in a while, the NCS Playoffs. Since there was no league champion last season, there wasn’t an NCS Playoffs because of Covid, so getting the opportunity to compete in the playoffs once again is something the girls are looking forward too.

“Though it’s like every other game, there probably is some extra motivation for us just because it’s been so long since we’ve been there,” Guerrero said.

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