Katelyn Harden led Hughson High’s varsity softball team to a 28-1 season and Sac-Joaquin Section title in 2012, but the UCLA-bound phenom had little luck against the ninth and final hitter in Oakdale’s lineup during an oddly-intense matchup at OHS on Feb. 20.
Harden’s pitches zipped towards home plate with serious speed and movement, but on 12 straight occasions, were cracked foul by determined Oakdale junior, Melinda Koppinger.
The lanky Mustang hitter crushed a pitch off the outfield fence, sent a hot grounder into the Hughson dugout and peppered nearly every corner of inside foul territory with her swings.
Then her timing paid off on a blast double up the middle that scored two runs, put Oakdale ahead in the run column and sent the Mustang dugout into a frenzy.
No one reminded them that it didn’t count.
Two days before SJS-sanctioned contests could begin, the same Oakdale program that won a Division IV section title last year, hosted a Hughson team ranked top-36 in the state by Calisports.com, a year removed from their own banner season.
“You can call it a scrimmage or whatever you want, but they are all trying,” Hughson coach Rod Cree said with a laugh.
Cree said Hughson returns eight of their nine starters from 2012. They represented an interesting challenge for an Oakdale team that graduated four key players but return a host of talent to roster a deep and talented unit.
Oakdale battered Harden for a host of knocks and used the contest to build momentum for an exciting season opener against Division I juggernaut St. Mary’s (25-6 last year), who Oakdale beat 7-4 on Friday.
Oakdale trailed 3-0 after an inning, but rallied back to score three in the third and two in the fourth. Koppinger was 2 for 4 while Hanna Holland (two runs), Kindra Hackbarth (two runs) and Lauren Sanders also belted two hits. Haley Fuller was 1 for 2 with an RBI double. Rylie Pena tossed a seven-inning win with two earned runs allowed.
“We settled down after a rough first inning, played good defense and ran the bases very well,” Oakdale coach Larry Loger said. “Rylie Pena pitched well in her first outing of the season.”
Pena expects to share pitching duties with Annaliese Davis and will be the key cog to Oakdale’s success this year. The Lady Mustangs should hit the ball well, but will need superb pitching when matching their skills with dominant conference pitchers thirsty to knock off the reigning champs.
It’s what Oakdale did last year by surprising the VOL to twice beat returning champs, Sierra, and then top the Timberwolves twice in two days to win the section. Sierra had appeared destined for another title when the season started, but couldn’t get another banner for LSU-bound star Allison Walljasper (a junior this year). She’s the reason Sierra, not Oakdale, is featured alongside Hughson on the top-36 Calhisports.com rankings.
“Obviously everybody picked Sierra last year and we surprised them,” Loger said. “So maybe we can do it again.
“I think we overachieved last year, and if we can do it again we will be tough to beat.”
Oakdale hosted Merced on Tuesday, though results were not available at press time. The Lady Mustangs are at West on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 3:30 p.m.