Ripon softball players Sydney Vernon (left), Caitlynn Campbell (center) and Lilly Mejia pose with the team's Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV banner on Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

Ripon softball completes historic year along Acacia Avenue with 1st state title

James Burns

RIPON — Buried behind a mountain of  paperwork and books, Ripon High athletic director Rod Wright can feel the crunch of summer’s impending arrival.

His barnstorming athletic department hasn’t made his life any easier. In the midst of a record-setting year, the Indians added another series of titles to their impressive ledger.

In capturing the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship, the Ripon High softball team also earned the school’s first mythical state championship.

The Indians were named Cal-Hi Sports’ D-IV state champion after completing a 24-2 season with a pair of victories over state No. 4 Calaveras, including a 7-3 triumph in the final.

“Oh, it’s amazing,” senior Sydney Vernon said with wide eyes. “I love it, because not only were we section champions but were state. A lot of people around here don’t know what that means exactly, but for us … the softball team knows it’s special.”

While the city and campus try to comprehend the magnitude of last week’s feat, Wright is stuck with a logistical problem and little time solve it. In the coming days, he’ll have to balance his finals with the design of a state championship banner.  Then, he’ll have to find time to hang the state and section banners in the school gymnasium.

It’s a good problem to have, he says. Softball capped an unprecedented year for the Indians, who won a record seven Trans-Valley League championships (football, girls soccer, girls golf, girls wrestling, girls track, boys basketball and softball) and a Valley Oak League title (girls swimming), too.

Softball earns the final curtain call after storming through the regular and postseason with its most wins in the MaxPreps era (2004). The Indians were ranked No. 1 in the small-school poll for most of the season, blasting teams with a lineup stacked with boppers.

Ripon clubbed 32 home runs, taking the pressure off sophomore pitcher Sydney Thomason who was 24-2 with two no-hitters, one perfect game, and 114 strikeouts in 153 innings.

Talented junior Lilly Mejia led the charge with a .529 average, 40 hits and a team-high 37 RBI. She also scored 33 runs. Thomason hit .575 with a team-best 42 hits and 12 doubles. Junior McKenna Daley scored 36 runs, while junior Mackenzie Hutchinson paced the team with eight homers.

“From the very first practice, testing out everybody’s skills, I knew that we had the drive, the talent and we also had that bond from the very first practice,” Vernon said. “We knew that we could make it far in the playoffs. ... With that record, you have to have a lot of chemistry, no matter how much talent you have.”

Just a freshman, Campbell placed her trust in coach Robert Vernon and the Indians’ four seniors. They didn't lead her astray. Instead, the Indians finish atop the state rankings, joining large-school No. 1 and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III winner Oakdale. The Mustangs are the mythical Division III state champion.

“He told us, ‘With our team, we’re going to go to sections.’ He believed that we could make it to sections,” said Campbell, a dynamic catcher quickly building a reputation and resume.

“Once we do, once we win that title, it’s going to be the best feeling in the world. He was right. It felt like I was Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner in the World Series. It was amazing.”

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