1987: The late Sheryl Wiens, the first coach of Merced College softball, retired, and the program went dark. English teacher and professional writer Steve Cassady was hired by athletic director Don Odishoo to coach and reinstitute the program in time for the 1988 season.
1988—(13-23): The Blue Devils fielded a team and lost its first six games. The first win of the new regime was an inartistic 13-11 triumph over Cabrillo in Aptos. Amandez Chavez (LeGrand) pitched most of the games in a losing season that belied her abundant talent. Cheryl Ingraham (Merced) stood out at shortstop and pitched occasionally. Flashback: we poured the foundation. We survived the season with a future in view. We named the field. I told college president Tom Harris we wanted to designate the field. He said, make sure we go through the steps and gain permission. I asked the girls. They said OK. Amanda Chavez suggested “She-Devil Diamond.” Permission granted, field named, program underway.
1989—(21-21): First baseman Tracee Rulon (Hug,Reno) stood out. Chavez pitched. Ingraham played shortstop and pitched. The Devils won an early tournament in West Hills, beat NorCal powers West Valley and San Mateo, when Chavez pitched and won five games in two days. The team had no depth and faltered in the end finishing 21-21. Flashback: we beat perennial NorCal power Napa in the West Valley Tournament. Amanda Chavez, near blind on a good day, was afflicted with conjunctivitis and saw home plate as a blur. Her roommate, catcher Tanya Williamson (McLane, Fresno), had the same condition. Chavez locked in on Williamson’s glove. She hit corner spots with a sizzling drop time and again. She struck out seven and walked none. Napa advanced runners to second twice. Both times the batter singled, and the runner was aced by a no-hop throw to the plate--the first time from L’Nyssa Noyer in right field; the second from Becky Gomes in Center. In the eighth inning, Cheryl Ingraham singled, was sacrificed to second, and scored on Becky Gomes’ single to center. We won, 1-0.
1990—(27-15): Gena Piper (Atwater) pitched 22 wins in a 27-14 season. Every infielder plus Piper would go on to earn a scholarship from a four-year school: Rulon at first. Twins Rosie and Paulie Gonzales at second base and shortstop. Gia Smith from Monterey, who defined the position, at third base. L’nyssa Noyer from Los Banos excelled in centerfield. The Devils made its first ever appearance in the NorCal playoffs, but lost 4-3 in 11 innings to Sequoias in round one of the regionals and were eliminated. Flashback: In late April, with a Tuesday double-header against Modesto upcoming, Gena Piper’s arm was hanging from overuse. Head trainer John O’Brien said she could pitch one game but not both, and we had no one else. It rained on Monday. I told everyone that ever dreamed of pitching to show up that night in the gym, and we’d audition a substitute. Piper won the first game, and we rolled in position players for the second game in a pitching sideshow, an inning, sometimes a batter at a time. We walked 18 Modesto hitters until 2nd baseman Rosie Gonzales somehow found the plate in the sixth and retired the side. Piper begged, I pleaded, O’brien relented, and Piper zipped up Modesto in the top of the seventh, and we won something like 11-10.
1993—(24-18): Led by Herrera, Lohmeier, redshirt freshman pitcher Dawn Valenta (Atwater) and freshman catcher Amy Caropreso (Los Banos), the Devils again finished second in the Camino Norte Conference, and were auto-seeded into the playoffs for the second straight year. The program recorded its first ever win against perennial state champion contender Sacramento, a 2-1 gem at She-Devil Diamond pitched by Marcy Herrera. Herrera gave up two hits and two walks to the first four batters in the first inning. She settled to retire 11 batters on ground outs. She won without ringing up a single strikeout. The Devils once again finished second behind Sacramento and were auto-seeded into the playoffs. In the regionals they were eliminated in by host Napa after beating Foothill twice. Flashback: My good friend Bob Maglione, then the Napa coach, is the acknowledged expert at tournament organization. He never has had, however, a concept of when enough crosses the line into too much. He scheduled—and we entered—an eight-team one-day double elimination tournament, the worst permutations of which do not kick in unless you lose one of your first two games then win out, which, of course, we did. We hit the field at 8:30 for a 9:45 a.m. game and beat Yuba 2-0. We skipped a game, and then lost to foothill 3-2, which sent us scrapping into the loser’s bracket. Back-to-back-to-back-to-back, with Herrera and Valenta alternating starts, we beat Skyline, Monterey, Foothill and Napa. For that we went immediately into the “if” game against Napa, which began at 10:30 pm. We lost it in sore-armed delirium 7-2, Herrera and Valenta alternating innings. We left the field at midnight:45. We’d been on the field 15 ¾ hours. Marcy Herrera was 11 for 21 for the day and pitched three victories. We drove home in the rain and arrived sometime after 3 a.m. Much later the COA would pass rules limiting teams to no more than three games per day, six per weekend. Our record of seven games in one day will never be broken.
1994—(31-19): The first of the 30 win seasons. Pitching distance was moved back to 43 feet, and .47 COR yellow ball was introduced, and we went long ball. Valenta and Pomicpic pitched. Freshman Trina Puckett (Linden) was an all-conference and all-NorCal shortstop. Amy Caropreso had an exceptional sophomore season as a catcher. Kelly Slate (LeGrand) was solid in the outfield. In the regionals at Sacramento, the Devils forced number one seed Sac City into the “if” game which they lost 3-2. Flashback: Dawn Valenta hit the first out-of-the-park home run in Blue Devil history, a towering shot over the left field wall against Cosumnes River in the Napa Tournament.
1996—(34-16): Every infielder played out of position. Cf Kasey Peters, 1st base; lf Sam Lee, 2nd base; cf Kim Bento, 3b; 2b Melissa Contreras, Shortstop. Result: Robinson won 24 games, Spensley 14, leading to a first-ever conference title for the program, a regional sweep over Cosumnes, American River, and Modesto—our first ever appearance in the state finals—an upset win over perennial state power Cypress in the state finals in Fremont. We were eliminated in the third game by eventual state champion Sacramento, when Robinson, who had pitched every inning since some time in March, finally gassed out in the fifth inning. The program recorded its 200th win on February 10, against San Jose City College. Flashback: In a night league game against Fresno City, with a conference title at stake, we had a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh. The bases were loaded; Fresno’s number 3 hitter was up. On a 3-2 pitch, Robinson went strength against strength, high heat middle in. The batter launched it inside-out into the night, to the deepest part of right centerfield. From center field, Mickee Burrows jumped the pitch and hit full stride by her second step, angling in perfect track toward the ball. She caught it in the web of her glove two steps from the fence. Great pitch, great hit, great catch, great game. Great year…great team.
1997—(28-20-1): Freshman shortstop Rosa Olvera (Patterson) was outstanding; Kim Bento (Gustine) was sterling in centerfield; Carrie Nelson (Turlock) pitched effectively. An upset double-header sweep over Modesto clinched a sixth straight auto-seed to the Regionals for an overachieving group which was eliminated in two at Sacramento Flashback: In the last date of the league season at home, we had to sweep Modesto for a second-place finish and an auto-seed to the playoffs, without which we probably would not have been selected at large. We won the first game but were tied late in the second. Rosa Olvera at second studied the pitcher and catcher. Deep into the counted she stole third with the pitcher holding the ball in the circle looking confused, another runner, Kim Bento, moving up from first to second. Michelle Mason, “Pooh,” doubled both runners in, and a group that maybe shouldn’t have been was en route to the playoffs.
1998—(35-16): Rosa Olvera continued with steller play at shortstop. Freshman catcher Ann Mesman (Los Banos) and center fielder Jessica “Yogi” Addison, eventual JC All-Americas, both hit with abandon. Raeann Stubbs (Golden Valley) was the CVC’s co-MVPitcher. We finished one game behind first place Fresno, which we had beaten two out of three times in conference play. In the regionals at Sacramento, we were eliminated by Sacramento after beating Sierra twice. Our equipment manager that year was Rueben Droughns, now in the NFL. Flashback: After beating Sierra the first day, some Sierra players were in the stands talking within earshot of Raeann Stubbs’ parents, talking about how they couldn’t have lost to her, she’s so small. The next day, Stubbs beat them again. After the game, we found a scouting report Sierra had assembled and left lying on the bench. The report said to play in on Rosa Olvera, who at barely 5-0 was “a very weak hitter.” Bad job of scouting. In one critical rally, Olvera—who hit .403 for the year--tripled deep into left field. For good measure, while Stubbs was putting Sierra to sleep on offense, Michelle Mason and Jessica Weston both hit two-run home runs over the left field fence in a 6-4 win.
1999—(51-8): Every starter hit higher than .300; Yogi Addison was above .400. We led the state in home runs with 33, 15 hit by skirt girl Hannah Low (Summerville), a freshman first baseman. Four pitchers—Veronica Giddens (Beyer), Jamie Harkins (Golden Valley), Raeann Stubbs, Andrea Martin--had winning records, and as a staff led the state in ERA. We outscored opponents by a per-game average of 6-1. Ann Mesman and Yogi Addison were named JC All-Americas. Patricia Olivarez (Atwater) and Stefanie Walsh (Beyer), at shortstop and second base, were among the best we’ve ever had. The program recorded its 300th win on February 18, a 6-0 shutout of Diablo Valley. Jamie Harkins pitched the win, and All-America Yogi Addison broke it open with a two-run single in the fifth, scoring Harkins and Ronee Giddens. We hosted the regionals and swept them, beating Siskyous and Cosumnes (twice). In the state finals we finished fifth: lost to Saddleback, beat Delta, beat Palomar, and lost to Long Beach. Flashback:: In an early tournament at home, we were playing Cypress, the eventual state champion. We were down 3-1 in the seventh. With two outs, Patricia Olivarez singled, Yogi Addison singled, and Ann Mesman singled. Bases loaded. Skirt girl Hannah Low sent the third pitch of the count halfway to Lake Yosemite—it was still rising as it left the park over the treetops in dead center field. The Cypress pitcher, Mandy Rockwell had a record of 34-1 that year, and that was her one. The Cypress coach, Brad Pickler, to this day, says “Walk the girl in the skirt.”
2000—(42-8): After losing three games the first day of the season, we went 42-5 the rest of the way. We weren’t deep, but we had nine people that could play better than anyone else’s nine. September Lopez (Yosemite) replaced Mesman, at catcher and Candace Dugo (Beyer) replaced Addison in center. Hannah Low was NorCal Player of the Year, Giddens finished second in the voting for NorCal Pitcher of the year. Injuries caught us at the end, and after sweeping the Regionals at home against Chabot and Diablo Valley (twice) we won our first game in the state finals against Santa Ana before losing to Palomar and Sequoias. Flashback: John Chavez, Amanda’s Dad stopped by practice one day. Waiting to hit near where we were talking, Stefanie Walsh, who always was angry over missing the corner of Haight and Ashbury in 1967, was singing Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee”. Chavez said, “I see you still have a touch for attracting wierdos”. True enough. “O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz,” somehow became our team song and the girls broke it out at some odd times. We became bitter rivals with COS that year, had swept a contentious double header against them at home in March. Now early April, we were behind at their place, 4-1 after four innings, when a loss would cede to them an unacceptable literal and moral victory. I told the girls, this won’t do--you win, you get Baskin-Robbins on me after. They held up the game to open the fifth by forming a hug ring in the on-deck circle. They broke out a loud chorus of “Mercedes-Benz”. An astonished opponent and crowd then bore witness to a hitting display culminated by September Lopez’ base clearing double that rang up four runs and a lead we did not relinquish. That hippie anthem is still music to my ears. The girls got their Baskin-Robbins. They earned it, weirdness and all.
2001—(22-15): September Lopez and Candace Dugo anchored us. Dugo was named JC All-America. Brandi Makin (Turlock) was outstanding at shortstop. We played terrible defense and were mediocre in several spots, but somehow we won games. We were the 11th seed in the Regionals at San Mateo and beat #7 Redwoods twice before being eliminated by #3 San Mateo.
2002—(21-23): First losing season since 1989, though an underachieving group still made the playoffs as the 16th seed. 2b Evelina Huerta (Livingston) and shortstop Patrice “Bubba” Redding (Dos Palos) were plus .300 hitters and exceptional fielders. Brandi Makin was off the charts. She switched to centerfield and dislocated her shoulder on a diving catch in late March. Unable to hit right handed, she turned lefthander, with one day’s practice, and went on a 17 for 26 hitting spree. Flashback: Brandi Makin’s final at bat at Merced College—she went up left handed and hit one over the right centerfield wall against Fresno City. Brandi had a flair for the dramatic home run: She was one of three Blue Devils to hit the second tennis court past the outfield at Fresno City. Hannah Low was the first, Makin the second, and Patrice Redding the third.
2003—(26-18): A year for which I have no explanation. We went 20-3 in a difficult non-conference schedule, but only 6-15 in league play. Megan Hazeltine (Merced) and Allison Bradford (LeGrand) were quality pitchers. Huerta and Redding were back. Stephanie Rushing (Turlock) caught and played third base and led the team in most offensive categories. Shandra Hopkins (Turlock Christian) was solid at first base. Suzanne Burrola (LeGrand) played big at shortstop. And we didn’t make the playoffs. Flashback: Delta was among the top teams in the north, and we beat them three times, with three different pitchers. In the most dramatic game, we were scoreless through nine. Allie Bradford was sizzling on the mound, and the Delta pitcher, Megan Dyer was cutting us down with an unhittable rise. I told the girls, just set up to hit, and don’t worry about the K’s—if we’re ready, all she has to do is make one mistake. In the fourth tiebreaker inning, Evelina Huerta started at second and was wild-pitched to third. Dyer made her mistake to Stefanie Rushing, and Rush drilled it into right field for a 1-0 win.
2004—(23-14): We had a very solid infield: Hopkins, Rushing at 2nd; Vanessa Diaz (LeGrand) at third, Burrola at shortstop. Jessica Riley (Atwater) caught. Megan Hazeltine threw most of the games. Laura Ramsey (Hughson) became an excellent left-fielder after catching all through high school and summer ball. Kristin Woods was the dp. Flashback: all year, we were on the playoff bubble. Everything was a struggle. Playing Fresno City in April, we could get nothing off pitcher Jennifer Spradling, while Megan Hazeltine was shutting them down. In the eleventh inning, it was like we’d had enough. Hazeltine singled. Jessica Riley singled. Stefanie Rushing singled to center, and the play was on. Hazeltine reached third in about two strides, carved a perfect turn around the bag and headed toward home. She slid bang-bang safe for the win. The newspaper guy asked if she at all thought about hesitating. She said, “Never. I know coach. We were scoring.”