Ferndale Wildcats win NCS softball championship; team dominates postseason opponents

Mark Lourenzo

Beacon Correspondent

The Ferndale Wildcats girls softball team dominated their Division 6 opponents on their way to a North Coast Section Championship, realized this past Saturday with a 15-0 pasting of Laytonville in the title game. It was the 2nd consecutive championship for the Lady Cats softball team and head coach Jeremy Griffith. The Lady Cats played the very same two teams in the playoffs last year, facing Anderson Valley in the semifinal round and Laytonville in the title game. Whether talking 2012 or 2013, the results were the same, Ferndale trounced the competition and won a section title.

In a very small Division 6 softball bracket featuring five teams, the No. 1 seeded Wildcats earned a first round bye and met No. 5 Anderson Valley in their semifinal game last mid-week. The Panthers moved past the first round with a win over No. 4 Tomales, thus earning the right to face Ferndale. Meanwhile, the Lady Cats had not played a game in 13 days since the end of their regular season and could have easily been rusty. In girls softball it all starts with pitching and Ferndale has a good one in junior Meagan Earley. Earley has been a star on the north coast prep softball scene since her freshman year and this season was no exception, as she led the Cats to a 18-6 record coming into the postseason.

Earley set the tone in the early innings as she went the first three frames giving up just one hit while striking out three opposing batters. The Ferndale offense staked their pitcher to a 11-0 lead after just one inning and the game was decided early. So much so the Cats brought in their No. 2 pitcher Maci Branstetter, who followed through with two solid innings of one-hit ball. The Wildcat defense played stellar despite the long layoff and error free ball kept the base paths free of Panther runners.

Ferndale hammered out 18 hits to the opponents 2 and Branstetter led the way going 3 for 4 with 2 triples and while scoring 4 runs. Catcher Hannah Pichulo went 3 for 5 with two doubles and two RBIs, Ashli Sines went 2 for 3 with a home run and 3 RBIs. The hits just kept coming as Earley, Taryn DeMille and Bailey Collings and Kelsey Meyers each had two hits and runs batted in. The game was called after five innings with the Wildcats hammering out a 24-0 victory over the Panthers.

Ferndale's Meyers has played a key role for the team this year as the unofficial cheerleader and being the only senior on the squad has come with responsibility.

"Yeah, I feel like I have to do my part to lead, but it's all good, they're a great group of girls, I'm proud to be on the team," said Meyers after the win.

The Lady Cats faced a more worthy opponent in the title game in Laytonville. Starting visiting pitcher senior Ty Cauckwell had decent pace on the ball, but these were the defending champs Laytonville was facing and Ferndale played like it. The Cats smacked hits and put the ball in play as they loaded the bases in the early innings and putting pressure on the Laytonville defense and their pitcher. Ferndale pushed across two runs in the first inning but Laytonville escaped further damage by keeping the ball in the infield.

The Wildcats would go on to score runs in each at-bat and pushed across five runs in both the second and fourth innings. Laytonville would go on to commit six errors which did not help the cause and the title game was ended after five innings with a final score of 15-0. Earley threw another gem and though she gave up a first inning single to the opponents, that would be the last base hit for the visitors. Early went the five innings with 5 strikeouts and did not allow a base runner past second base. The Ferndale defense once again played exceptional.

Earley was also just as good in the batter box as the pitching circle, she went 3 for 4 with two RBIs while scoring 4 runs herself. Branstetter, Emma Gomes, and DeMille each went 2 for 3 as the 1-4 batters paced the team. Kelsey Meyers drove in two runs, as did Taylor Miranda.

The Cats certainly made it look easy the past two seasons in winning a section softball crown, but does the winning habit ever get old?

"It doesn't," said head coach Jeremy Griffith. "Each year brings a different set of girls hoping to reach their goals. We had some veteran players to lead the team, but also some younger players to fill some holes. It seemed to work out."

Though Griffith admitted that the team didn't look the part in the early stages of the season, the girls came on in the end. "The girls came out and worked hard and by season's end they played great," added Griffith. With the ease that the Ferndale team won the Division 6 title the last two seasons makes one wonder if a move up in class would be the thing to consider?

"We look at it every year and when we had to make the decision this time around, it was Division 6, but next year we will have to make the decision once again and we'll see about a step up in class," pondered Ferndale head Jeremy Griffith as he looked at a team that is losing just one senior to graduation. The Cats have won a section title six times but have also had their hearts broken in championship games. Ferndale has played in enough Division 6 title games to know a good thing when they see it, losing in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before winning it all in 2011 and 2012.

Photo by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon

The Ferndale defense looks to make a play on a Laytonville baserunner in Saturday's NCS Championship game. As second baseman Taryn DeMille awaits the throw, shortstop Maci Branstetter looks to back her up on the play. Though baserunner slid safely into second base, it would prove to be the farthest any Laytonville runner would get, as Ferndale pitcher Meagan Earley shut down the opponents and the Wildcat defense backed her with several stirring plays.