By Harold Abend

NOVATO, Calif. – The old expression “pitching and defense wins games” could not have been
more appropriate than in the CIF North Coast Section Division II softball championship
game on Friday night at San Marin High.

Both junior Lila Partridge of top-seeded Casa Grande-Petaluma and sophomore Kaci Norton
of second-seeded Livermore pitched well.

However, after all was said and done Gauchos ace Partridge was a touch better and the
Casa Grande defense sparkled in a 2-0 victory.

The win was the second straight NCS D2 title for Casa Grande (23-2) and came against the
same Livermore team they defeated 5-1 to win the 2023 championship. It was also the third
consecutive victory for Casa Grande over Livermore after the Gauchos defeated the
Cowboys girls 5-1 in late April.

The Kansas-committed Partridge tossed a two-hitter with nine strikeouts. About the only
negative fact about her outing was two hit batters, a walk, and a wild pitch, but in each of
those four instances either the Casa Grande defense had her back or Partridge pitched her
way out of the jam.

“She knew what she needed to do coming into this game and she had her stuff going, a
great curveball and fastball,” said Casa Grande head coach Billy Brody. “She trusted the
pitch calling and her defense was just there for her like they have been all year long.”

“I was definitely feeling it tonight,” said Partridge, who also agreed she was absolutely
hitting her spots in shutting down the East Bay Athletic League champions. “The other
pitcher was throwing really well. She was working the strike zone but we made the
adjustments we needed to.”

Casa Grande (23-2) scored the only run Partridge needed in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Junior Lauren Ketchu led off with a double and after Norton got a strikeout and intentionally
walked Partridge, sophomore catcher Abby McSweeney delivered an RBI single that drove in
Ketchu.

The Gauchos threatened in the second inning but a base running error created a double play
that took them out of the inning.

Livermore had its first real scoring chance in the top of the third after junior Maggie Pyke
got a leadoff double and junior Sophia Gerochi followed with a single to put runners at first
and third. Senior Jae Cosgriff then hit a line shot but it was snared by shortstop Ketchu who
then doubled up Pyke trying to get back to third. Partridge closed out the inning with a
routine grounder to first.

The Casa Grande defense came alive again in the sixth. Partridge plunked leadoff hitter
Gerochi, and then advanced her to second with a wild pitch. That brought Minnesota-
committed Cosgriff to the plate once again. This time she smoked one right at first base
sacker Marissa Partridge who double up Gerochi who could not get back to second base.
Once again Partridge closed things out on a grounder to third.

“The defense as well made the adjustments we wanted to just like the offense, and we
made super key plays when we had to,” continued Partridge, who also had a double to go
with the intentional walk.

“Defense wins ball games, and that’s our motto,” Brody remarked.
Scoring only one run against a team like Livermore with multiple hitters is not a great
cushion. McSweeney answered and gave Partridge and the Gauchos a little breathing room
with an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth when she hit a line drive that split the left
and center fielders and went to the fence. She never slowed down, and with Brody wind
milling her as she rounded third, McSweeney came all the way around with an in-the-park
home run.

“Once it squirted by them she was moving and I wasn’t going to stop her,” Brody said
“Abby had my back behind the plate and in the batter’s box,” Partridge remarked.

McSweeney ended up 2-for-3 with the home run, two RBI and a run scored.
Partridge had everyone’s back in the bottom of the seventh. After inducing a grounder to
second for the first out, she stuck out the final two batters to end the game.

“I’m super excited to play different teams and I’m in it to win it all,” Partridge said. “We’re in
it to win it all.”

As expected, Casa Grande, as the highest ranked team in the NCS coming in at No. 13 in
last week’s Cal-Hi Sports state rankings, and likely to be higher in the new rankings this
week, was chosen for Division I for the state CIF Northern Regional playoffs and drew the
No. 5 seed. The Gauchos open on Tuesday evening on the road in Fresno at No. 4 seed
Clovis.

“We’ll stay in the moment and see what happens,” said Brody about being chosen for D1.
“Whatever comes our way we’ll take it one step at a time, one pitch at a time just like we
always do, and stay in the moment.”

Despite its NCS D2 runner-up finish Livermore (24-6) was not chosen for the NorCals so
their season has ended.