Yes, we picked Pinole Valley to end Alameda’s six-year run as the Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League champion. Alameda always has talent and it should not be counted out. However, longtime coach Linda Brown is no longer there. Neither are most of the players who helped the Hornets win the North Coast Section 2A East Bay title last year.
Pinole Valley brings back almost everyone who led the Spartans to last year’s 2A title game against Alameda. With so much experience there, it’s hard to pick against the Spartans. Janna Dias is the ace of the league now and Danielle Mason is a suitable backup. Mason will play shortstop when Dias pitches, and vice versa. That should help fill the hole left by the graduation of Jontelle Smith. Tiffiny Valdehueza is in her second year as the Spartans coach.
Every coach in the league said that Pinole Valley, Berkeley and Alameda are the top three in the league this year, with Pinole Valley and Berkeley coming out as the landslide favorites to finish in the top two.
Berkeley is also strong with lots of experience under new coach Ron Hunt. Though it’s a senior-laden team, it is anchored by sophomore pitcher Sarah Neuhaus. It should also get defense and hitting from the Kurashige-Elliot twins — shortstop Amelia and first base/second base Darcey.
League coaches agree there is a second tier after the Spartans, Yellow Jackets and Hornets. After that, fourth and fifth place should be decided between Encinal and Hercules. Encinal’s first-year coach Rick Holgerson inherits a pretty experienced team that took fourth last year. The Jets’ only key loss was catcher Ashley Davidson. Hercules was fifth last year and has several players back. Coach Jim Kinnison, in his third season, is the senior member of the league’s coaching fraternity. However, the Titans are plagued with injuries for the second year in a row and have only 10 players on the roster, so there’s not much depth. There is enough talent for Hercules to overtake Encinal for fourth if it can get healthy.
De Anza, El Cerrito and Richmond have struggling softball programs. De Anza has already beaten El Cerrito in a non-league game and Richmond has won just two league games in five years. Because of that, it’s hard not to pick the Oilers last.