At nearly all MVHS softball games, a usual cast of parents is present. They’re prepared with sunglasses, hats, chairs and years of softball knowledge. At the team’s CCS game on May 20, there were quite a few guests among the seasoned regulars. Parents speed walked to the field in work clothes, their phones glued to their ears, but their eyes glued to the turf, scanning for their daughters. A row of bright, tie-dye knee socks painted the silver bleachers neon as middle school softball players whispered to each other, eager to see the game unfold. The usuals exchanged amused, playfully impressed expressions when a voice came over speakers, announcing that the CCS match would begin — and, throughout the game, announcing that Subway was a proud sponsor of CCS Athletics. Hot off a five game winning streak, the Matadors drew a large crowd for their first tournament game. The team lost 9-3 to Los Gatos High School, and even though MVHS’ bases weren’t loaded, the bleachers were.
Sophomore Danielle Koontz began the game on the mound for the Matadors, who cheered and yelled and showed high energy from the start. For LGHS, on the other hand, the morale started low. They were unable to make contact with the bat, until finally a ball soared — too far to the left.
“No,” an MVHS dad said instinctively and loudly. “No, that’ll be a foul ball.” The parents around him nodded in agreement and a few seconds later so did everyone else. Season after season of watching their daughters play softball and their sons play baseball, parents have seen it at all and know what to expect.
Despite notable catches by junior Monica McCarthy, LGHS put up a run after a throwing error ensuing a bunt attempt. Another catch from McCarthy ended the the top of the first, and the MVHS crowd erupted in applause.
The bottom of the first inning also finished with a great catch. The halves ended identically, but only the Wildcats were able to put a run on the board.
The Matadors came back in the second inning, with freshman Hailee Huber earning an RBI double, tying the game at 1.
The third inning was where it fell apart for the Matadors.
On the downswing
The top of the third began with a strong swing from the Wildcats.
“That’s a tough one,” a parent said as MVHS players struggled to catch the ball. “Someone?” he said, hoping a player could somehow catch it, trailing off as the batter headed to first.
Another quick run put LGHS up 2-1.
The close lead became unclose-able in the next thirty seconds: screaming and shrieking were heard spread out then all at once from the LGHS bench as a put the Cats ahead 5-1.
“After one mistake, we let it go,” McCarthy said.
The Wildcats were on a roll.
“Ah, that’s a great bunt,” an MVHS parent said sadly as an LGHS player headed to first base. Then he smiled, when junior Marissa Lee got her out seconds later.
An LGHS ball flew wide and parents leaned forward, craning their necks to see senior Janaye Sakkas easily pluck it out of the air, ending the top of the third inning.
The Matadors were able to score again, this time from an RBI single by freshman Ann Marie Manley. LGHS was back on alert.
“Guys, watch her!” an outfielder said, jabbing her finger toward Koontz. Still, the Matadors were down three runs and LGHS was just getting started.
In the fourth inning, an LGHS runner took off heading straight to first, looking around then sliding into second as Lee tried to get her out, and from the blind eye it seemed that she succeeded. However, the umpire signaled that no, she was safe. The MVHS crowd collectively, audibly cringed.
“That was so good it fooled the umpire,” a parent said. “He was assuming safe as she slid in.”
The speedy LGHS player raced to third on the next hit, but a catch from sophomore Mika Maenaga cut the play short and the girls filed into their respective dugouts.
Parents and coaches expertly traded stories about which teams had made CCS, which players they knew on those teams and even who had a BYE and when.
One of these coaches was Ernest Afanador of the Nor Cal Legends, who coached a couple of MVHS players.
“I always like to go out and see how players do,” he said. “I’ve been [coaching]a long time, so I always see people that look familiar: umpires, coaches, players, parents.”
Afandor even explained that MVHS coach Ray Teixeira had coached his own daughter.
“It’s a small world,” he said.
This was his first choice CCS game to watch and he plans on heading to a few on Saturday as well. He enjoys watching his players in a slightly different context and seeing if they carry out the skill he’s taught them in high school.
The final inning
The Matadors stepped up to bat and Huber walked to first, high-fiving coach Joe Walker. A throwing error put Huber on second and freshman Aly Olkein on first. Sakkas then scored on an RBI bunt to reduce the deficit to two, 5-3.
The top of the fifth was also highlighted by strong Matador fielding, particularly from Manley on first base and Maenaga in the outfield.
Then an uncatchable ball flew up, nearly toppling over the net and into the bleachers.
“Come on, you could have caught that,” a mom jokingly said. The umpire looked up and traced the ball’s path with his eyes before deciding that it, along with another neon ball, was staying put 100 feet above their heads and pulled out another one.
Minutes later, Koontz flew into first, hearing “Nice hustle” from both directions — her teammates in the dugout cheered and her fans in the bleachers applauded.
Freshman Kaitlynn Yamauchi ended the top of the sixth inning with yet another good catch, and Olkein quickly got on base. After an LGHS error, Sakkas headed to first, then second, but barely got out. MVHS players and parents groaned. The next MVHS batter hit the ball straight into the pitcher’s glove and the inning was over.
The stagnant scoreboard hadn’t changed since the fourth inning and the Matadors were still down two. LGHS hadn’t scored since the third inning, but the four previously scored runs gave them a comfortable cushion.
“We had a few chances to put up runs but we weren’t able to,” Teixeira said. “The momentum kind of swung [to the Wildcats]and we weren’t able to get it back.”
Fans, one cluster of them softball players from other schools, were engrossed in conversation, turning to face the game every once in a while to cheer, but mostly focused on trading horror stories.
“Remember the OMG drill?” one said to a club coach. “It was called OMG because it was Oh my God. Could’ve called it the death drill.”
In the final inning, an LGHS home run just barely passed the fence, putting LGHS up 8-3. A sea of orange ran out of the dugout to swarm the batter.
“That just looked so effortless,” one young player in the stands said to another.
Another LGHS ball hit the fence, but didn’t go over. LGHS was now up 9-3, where the score would settle for the remainder of the game.
For some, it was over until next February, but for others, it was finally, truly the end.
This game marked the end of an era. Sakkas, a three-sport athlete, completed her twelfth season at MVHS after four years of field hockey, soccer and softball.
“It’s bittersweet that it’s over because I want to continue,” Sakkas said. “But it has to end at some time.”
Sakkas heads to UC Berkeley, where she will play field hockey, on July 6.
“Even though this game wasn’t what we hoped, it was still a good way to end the season,” she said. “We had an amazing season, flipping the record from last year. It was nice to go out like this, to be league champions.”
Sakkas cited experience and closeness as major reasons for the team’s turnaround from last year’s weaker season, a sentiment other team members expressed as well.
McCarthy was unable to pinpoint how exactly the teammates became closer, but she noted that the way the team traded a 7-20 record for a 21-7 one was no coincidence.
“If you can’t work as a team you cannot be successful,” McCarthy said. “The whole entire season we had fun and we didn’t really think about winning. Last season, none of us were close and we didn’t know each other. We wanted to win and we didn’t.”
In February, the Matadors will be moved up to the De Anza League. The goal, which they accomplished this year, will be the same: win the league and qualify for CCS. The usual parents will reappear and some new faces will replace the missing ones. And until then, they’ll see each other at tournaments.