The Central Catholic Raiders baseball team proudly show off their NorCal championship plaque after defeating Okamont (Sinh Diep).

Year-end notebook: Central Catholic caps 2023 with baseball-softball glory

Ron Agostini

The 2022-’23 high school year in athletics ended with a twin thunderclap from Central Catholic.

Athletic Director Billy Hylla, monitoring the events of June 3,  estimated that the Raiders’ baseball and softball teams annexed CIF Northern California Division III Regional titles in a span of about 20 magical minutes -- the Central Catholic boys’ victory over Oakmont 5-2 at home, and the softball team’s 7-0 win at Shingle Springs over host Ponderosa.

Randi Roelling capped her brilliant CC career with literal perfection– a nine-strikeout perfect game in the NorCal softball final. If that wasn’t enough,she also fueled the Raiders with a home run that covered about 280 feet. She’ll bring that talent to Cal, her next destination.

The softball win avenged a Central Catholic loss to Ponderosa in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final. Roelling (21-3), named the state Player of the Year by both MaxPreps and CalHi Sports, did a little bit of everything for the Raiders (30-4), led by coach Sam Nichols. Roelling topped all California pitchers in strikeouts (375) for the second straight year.

Meanwhile, the CC baseball team was anchored all season by pitchers Tyler Paul Wentworth and Adrian Garcia and power-hitting leadoff man Braxton Thomas (a state-leading 14 home runs). Coach Danny Ayala guided the team (24-8-1) to the program’s 12th section title.

Ripon Christian (23-8) celebrated a section Division VII championship and reached the D-V NorCal semifinals. The Orestimba girls (25-5) enjoyed their best softball season in years by winning the section D-V title. The Warriors were beaten in the D-IV NorCal finals by Capital Christian.

Looking for a future star? Start with Oakdale right-hander Landon Schutte, who struck out 59 in 39 innings and batted .375 with 20 RBIs as a freshman.

Pitman graduate Joey Stout was named MVP after the 47th Central Valley Lions All-Star Game in Tracy (Samantha Schmidt).

FOOTBALL -- Observers noted the performance last fall of Pitman senior Joey Stout, a beacon during a 2-8 season for the Pride. Stout’s star shined the brightest during the 47th Central Valley Lions All-Star Game in Tracy last week.

Stout, who qualified for the CIF State Track and Field Championships in both the 200 and 400 meters last month, scored two touchdowns –a 68-yard run and a 21-yard reception from Merced’s Eleazar Garza – and was named the Player of the Game during the South’s 38—13 victory. Stout plans to play for coach Rusty Stivers at Modesto Junior College.

The South was led by coaches Trent Merzon of Oakdale and Tim Garcia of Grace Davis.  Both have stepped down at their respective schools.

The victorious South team, led by Trent Merzon and Tim Garcia, pose together after the 47th Central Valley All-Star Game (Samantha Schmidt).

Merzon averaged 10 wins over 23 seasons (225-62-1) and his 78 percent winning percentage places him in the all-time top 10 of public-school coaches in California, according to CalHi Sports’ Mark Tennis. Merzon’s Mustangs reached two on-the-field state title games and won it in 2016.

A large gathering of Oakdale supporters gave Merzon a standing ovation during a testimonial four weeks ago at Oakdale Country Club. He will be succeeded by Oakdale grad and former defensive coordinator Garrett Martin. Merzon is expected to remain on the OHS faculty for the next few years.

Garcia (a former Davis quarterback much like Merzon at Oakdale), raised the fortunes of Spartan football over his nine seasons in charge.  His 2021 team won the Western Athletic Conference title – Davis’ first title in 20 years – and went 10-0 for the first time since 1984.

The new Davis coach is former offensive coordinator Trevor Mew, who was Central Valley’s first quarterback two decades ago. Garcia will retain his duties as athletic director.

In another coaching change, Jeff Abrew takes over at Sierra for Jeff Harbison. Abrew was the Timberwolves’ offensive coordinator during an impressive run under Harbison a decade ago.  

NOTES – Frank Ginda (Pacheco High, San Jose State) was named the United States Football League’s Defense Player of the Year. Ginda guided the Michigan Panthers into the playoffs by totaling a league-leading 104 tackles and added three interceptions. … For the second time in three years, Bret Harte will not field a varsity football team in 2023. A lack of upperclassmen was the reported reason, though the Bullfrogs will compete at the JV level. … Doug Clark has resigned after four seasons as Calaveras football coach. Manny Mossa, a Red Hawk grad who has coached at various levels for Calaveras for nearly two decades, is the new coach. …

Former Modesto Christian star Manasse Itete, one of the area’s elite linemen who has committed to USC, will compete for Central Catholic this fall after the required 30-day sitting-out time for transfers. Itete, a senior, was a starter for MC during its march to the 2022 CIF Open Division state basketball finals. … Central Catholic senior Brooklyn Cheek, a safety/receiver, committed to Cal earlier this year. …

St. Mary's product Gabe Vincent (reportedly on his way to the Los Angeles Lakers) nearly became the sixth section product to win an NBA title when the Miami Heat reached the league championship series. The five who earned NBA title rings: Matt Barnes, Del Campo (2017 Golden State Warriors); Bill Cartwright, Elk Grove (1991, '92 and '93 Chicago Bulls); Scott Brooks, East Union (1994 Houston Rockets); Festus Ezeli, Jesuit (2015 Golden State Warriors); and John Gianelli, Edison of Stockton (1973 New York Knicks). ...

Joe Lighthall stands atop the podium at the CIF State Track and Field Championships were took first in the 800 meters (Samantha Schmidt).

Members of the Hughson community organized a surprise celebration on June 1 for Hughson grad Joe Lighthall, the 800-meter champion at the state meet in May at Clovis. Lighthall will continue his career at BYU. ... Next stop: The first Friday of the 2023 football season Aug. 18.