The parity across the softball diamonds of the city of San Mateo has never been more evident.
With Central Coast Section championship Saturday upon us, both Aragon and Hillsdale will be vying for CCS crowns. And San Mateo advanced to the CCS Division I semifinals, only to be eliminated by Aragon.
The common link between the three intra-city rivals? Well, the teams aren’t so much rivals, considering the nucleus of all three is composed of players from the West Bay Warriors travel team, formed in 2016 in San Mateo by Ray McDonald. His daughter Kelly McDonald — a coach with the Warriors — took over as Hillsdale’s head coach this season.
“It’s a really proud moment for me, 10 of the 15 girls that made first-team PAL All-League are all Warriors,” Kelly McDonald said.
Hillsdale (14-7) is the No. 3 seed in the CCS Division II bracket, taking on No. 5 Pioneer (14-11) at San Jose’s PAL Stadium at 10 a.m. Hillsdale has four CCS titles all-time, but hasn’t won one since 1991, the year Kelly McDonald was born.
Under former head coach Randy Metheany, the Lady Knights reached the Division II semifinals in every season since 2013, including a trip to the finals in 2017. After graduating a core of seven seniors last year, six of whom were starters, Hillsdale underwent a serious makeover this season.
“There’s definitely excitement,” Kelly McDonald said. “… I think that put the excitement into perspective that it’s an entirely new lineup.”
Six of the players on the current Hillsdale varsity roster play for the West Bay Warriors. And the CCS championship game is just a warm-up for that travel softball contingent. After the morning title game in San Jose, the Warriors’ 18U gold, 16U Gold and both 14U teams are slated to open their first tournament of the summer in Roseville, with the earliest start time at 3:30 p.m.
The Warriors will surely have some latecomers from their Aragon contingent. The No. 3-seed Lady Dons (21-6) play for the CCS Division I title against No. 1 Watsonville (23-4) at PAL Stadium at 12:30 p.m.
“Absolutely, I will be rooting for them,” Kelly McDonald said, even though she won’t be there to see it as she plans to be on the road for the two-hour drive to Roseville. “Those are my girls. I’m so excited for them.”
Aragon head coach Roger Miller got an infusion of Warriors players this year with the best freshman tandem in the CCS, shortstop Megan Grant and catcher Liv DiNardo. Grant leads the CCS with 13 home runs and 50 RBIs, according to MaxPreps.com. DiNardo ranks third with 45 RBIs, is tied for seventh with nine homers and it tied for fifth with 47 hits.
“It’s a great organization,” Miller said. “A lot of the girls play on all three (varsity teams in San Mateo). There’s such ties … so a lot of the girls that play right now for the San Mateo schools, they’re all very close.”
Aragon has three other Warriors on roster: junior outfielder Shannon Galliano, senior third baseman Makaila Tuakoi and senior pitcher Holly Fletcher.
Fletcher, a right-hander committed to pitch in the NCAA Division I ranks at University of South Dakota, will take the ball in Saturday’s championship game for an Aragon program that has never won a CCS title, and has only reached the finals once in 1986.
“Holly has had so much experience because she plays the travel ball in the summer,” Miller said. “So, she can handle any of the pressure that’s put to her because she’s had so much experience doing it.”
With Aragon matching up against the San Mateo Bearcats in the Division I semifinals, it pitted several Warriors against one another, including both pitchers — Fletcher and Mateo sophomore Sage Hager.
In addition to the other Bearcats who play for the Warriors, their head coach Alyssa Jepsen used to coach for the West Bay Warriors. Jepsen and Kelly McDonald were also teammates at Notre Dame-Belmont for three years in the 2000s.
The West Bay Warriors also boast two players in the CCS Open Division finals in St. Francis in freshman Brooke Deppiesse and sophomore Lyndzey Allard.