Morrow The Times-Standard
Sunday, May 23, 2004 -
FERNDALE -- Jackie Miranda doesn't like to lose -- at anything.
Neither do her cousins, Felicia and Haily.
Then again, they don't lose too often.
Eek, Jackie says of the thought.
The Mirandas are key players in the continuing hit series that is Ferndale High School softball.
"Winning is something we've learned -- it takes a lot of hard work," said Jackie, a senior pitcher.
A year ago, Ferndale won all 25 of its games, winning the North Coast Section championship; this year, the Wildcats completed its regular-season schedule with 25 wins in 25 games and will begin NCS playoffs with a 50-game winning streak.
According to Cal-Hi Prep, a Bay Area-based service that chronicles such matters, Ferndale's winning streak is the longest among California high school softball teams.
"To be honest, we don't talk about (the winning streak)," said Tom Jorgensen, who shares coaching responsibilities with Mike Griffith.
Still, the streak has caused some heads to shake.
"It's pretty amazing," said team supporter Russ Killingsworth. "I've followed other sports, but I never really paid much attention to softball until my daughter (Cari) started to play the sport. And you know, this team is pretty good."
For the record, Ferndale has had four consecutive 12-0 conference seasons and five in the last seven years. Since 1998, the team is 154-23, winning two NCS Class-A championships (1999 and 2003) and advancing to the second round three times.
The team had outscored its first 23 opponents by 192-20; a year ago, the Wildcats outscored 25 opponents 245-22.
"I remember the last game we lost -- to Holy Names in the second round of the (2002) playoffs," said Jackie Miranda. "I cried when the game was over. I just didn't want (losing) to happen again."
Of course, she couldn't have expected this, either.
"All we really want to do is have fun," she said. "No, there's no pressure. As long as we have fun."
Anyone with any knowledge of the intricacies involved with baseball or softball could appreciate the Ferndale team. It's a team for individuals who enjoy a game that's played the way it's supposed to be played, for those who like to watch the hit and run, the bunt, a runner taking the extra base, the double play.
"One thing," said Russ Killingsworth, "is that these girls are so well coached. From the time they started playing youth sports, the coaches have taught them the fundamentals and how to play. You've got to give a lot of the credit to people like Tim Miranda (a youth league coach) and, of course, Tom (Jorgensen) and Mike Griffith."
Most people point to Miranda for giving many of the girls their introduction to softball in the Fortuna-Ferndale youth program.
Miranda is Felicia and Haily's dad, Jackie's uncle, and also uncle to Brittany and Lauren, freshmen members of the Ferndale team whose brother Lucas plays for the Ferndale baseball team.
"I'd say he's had a lot to do with it," Jackie said.
"He was there for us when we were young," Haily said.
Ferndale youngsters begin their youth experience between the ages of 7-9, working their way up through the age-group program.
Of course, it's not been a totally win-win situation for members of the Ferndale softball team.
"Not at all," said Jackie, admitting that learning from a loss can be as much of a positive experience as learning from a win, maybe even more so.
"A team like Ferndale learns from its mistakes," said Steve Fry, the softball coach at South Fork High. "Good teams do that, though."
Lou and Debbie Cook say their daughter Laci, the Ferndale center fielder, has carried the memory of a youth league experience with her, a memory they believe provides motivation to many of the team's players.
"She was on an 11-12 team that lost a tournament game they should have won," Lou said. "That experience taught them how to win. Two years later, they played that same team, beat it twice and won that tournament. Those girls are the nucleus of this team and you can see they know how to win."
Stephanie DeMarzi, the team's standout catcher, said, "We've had some close games that we could have lost, but we didn't."
There were a weekend series of games in the Arcata Tournament, matchups that included Arcata, Eureka, Del Norte and McKinleyville, games that "showed us that we could compete," according to Haily Miranda.
Those games also brought the team closer together, she said.
"Yeah, Felicia kissed me," Haily said. "We had some really close games and I was getting really tired, but she was there for me. She scored the winning run against McKinleyville and the winning run against Eureka and then she said, 'Haily, you be our workhorse' when we played Del Norte."
The Wildcats won that game, too, and the sisters met near the team's sideline for a big hug. But there were hugs everywhere.
It could have been a difficult experience, but it wasn't, said Haily, who was used to being the workhorse, having pitched 4 1/2 games in one day in a tournament in Spokane.
It all goes back to that youth league experience, some say, learning to overcome those natural feelings of uncertainty.
The Cooks, owners of Deb's Bark Avenue, a salon for dogs in Fortuna, usually watch games from an out-of-the-way location, not behind home plate where many parents assemble. They like the solitude and being able to talk among themselves.
For Laci, the youth league program began at age 9; for the others, it was at age 7. They've all played for the Phillies or the Marlins or the Rockies, for Tim or Rob Miranda, for Debbie DeMarzi and Gina Sarvinski.
"We didn't play T-ball," said Felicia Miranda. "We played 'coach pitch.'"
"Our coaches," said Haily Miranda, "were never just about winning. We all had so much fun, that's why we all liked to play." And, she says, their teams never did win all their games.
Over the years, of course, the friendships have grown, not only friendships among their teammates but also among players from other teams.
Said JoAnn Garber:
"I know my girls (twins Carrissa and Cailin) were on the opposite team from Haily and Felicia, and that our games went back and forth, back and forth. But no matter what happened, Tim was right there, helping one of the girls on our team. He was just getting them prepared for the next level of play."
And, said JoAnn, "I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Griffith isn't out looking at 11- and 12-year-olds as we speak."
In addition to the obvious development of their athletic skills, Carrissa and Cailin have had the opportunity "to make so many friends," their mother says.
"We live in a small community," she said. "Every one of these teams works hard and I know our girls work hard, but no one ever gloats after a game because they've all got friends on the other team. These girls have played together or against one another for a long time. They all pull for one another."
Like the time, Felicia said, when Ferndale was playing Del Norte, the No. 1 team in the Big Five Conference, and she found herself starting to cheer for Petra Lorenzi, the Del Norte pitcher, one of her close friends.
"I was saying things like, 'Hey, Petey' and 'Hey, Petey Pablo,'" Felicia said. "I don't think anyone heard me, though."
There is cheering for the Ferndale team, too, for freshman first baseman Jenna Miller, for freshman infielder Chelsea Boynton, outfielder Cari Killingsworth, for catcher Stephanie DeMarzi.
"We've got a lot of good players," said Haily Miranda.
And they all seem to know what the game is all about.
Watching the third baseman pick up a bunt and throw out a baserunner or the second baseman catch a hard line drive and turn it into a double play are plays, one coach says, the Ferndale players make look easy.
"Some of the fundamentals," said Steve Fry, the South Fork coach, "should be pretty basic by the time a girl gets to the varsity level, but it's not that way. Most of the teams Ferndale plays will have a couple of good players, but they're lacking experience. You look at Ferndale and you can see that they've got experience, they've had good coaching. And not only that, that's a team with talented players."
Laci Cook, who bats behind leadoff hitter Felicia Miranda, is perhaps the team's most consistent offensive threat. She also is its best defensive outfielder and one of its most vocal leaders.
"You can go right through the lineup and find someone who can make a big play," said Fry.
"On a much smaller scale, of course," said one parent, "playing Ferndale is like playing the Yankees. (Ferndale) is the team everyone wants to beat, it's the team everyone gets up for."
"(Ferndale) is the standard in the Humboldt-Del Norte League, both for Big Five and Little Four schools," said Fry. "The bar has been raised, (Ferndale) has given us all something to shoot for. You have to admire what they've done."
The standard is high for Ferndale football, too, and it appears the softball team is having a significant impact on the community.
Larry Pries, a veteran sportsman division driver at Redwood Acres raceway whose granddaughter, Cari Killingsworth, plays the outfield for Ferndale, is a regular at Wildcat games and one of the team's most vocal supporters.
"It's fun, watching these girls," said Pries, who lives in Ferndale. "They're very good and have a good time. That's the big thing -- they're having a good time."
Team members also are excelling in the classroom, notes Jorgensen.
Margaret Leonardi, for example, is active in the Future Farmers of America organization, is a regional vice president and, says Cailin Garber, "she's our Dairy Princess."
"It's OK, we're good friends," said Margaret.
Laci Cook, meanwhile, is preparing for a month-long trip to Germany, spending time with the family of a girl who spent a year with her family as a foreign exchange student. As an eighth-grader, she was part of a Sports Ambassador People to People program in Sweden.
"Their youth league teams developed a can't-lose attitude ... and this helps them in life, too," said Lou Cook. "No matter what the score, those girls knew they could come back. The core players from that team are members of the Ferndale varsity right now, and you can see that attitude's stayed with them."
"My sister and I," said Haily Miranda, "sort of feed off one another. I don't know what we'll do next year (after Felicia graduates)."
But how long will it continue? In 2000, Ferndale was 14-10 overall and 6-6 in the Little Four Conference. On May 12, in fact, the Wildcats lost to Hoopa 3-0, the last time they've been beaten in conference play.
"The freshmen on this year's team are very athletic -- they're going to keep winning and having fun," said Jackie.
Felicia Miranda and Jackie Miranda are the team's only seniors.
There are six juniors (Cook, Stephanie DeMarzi, Cailin and Carissa Garber, Haily Miranda and Leonardi), two sophomores (Killingsworth and Emry Hope) and six freshmen (Alissa DeMarzi, Chelsea Boynton, sisters Brittany and Lauren Miranda, Jenna Miller and Kay Townsend).
"A high school team that wins 48 -- or whatever it is -- games in a row just does not happen," said JoAnn Garber. "What's happened is a compliment to the Fortuna-Ferndale youth sports program, to the families, to the coaches and to the players."
The players, apparently, are there for the taking.
"Losing?" said one. "It wouldn't devastate me, as long as we play well and have fun."
How can they lose with that attitude?