Longevity in coaching has been a consistent theme throughout the Coaches Corner series, and the seventh installment is no exception as this week it turns to the softball diamond where former Colusa High School coach Randy Watt was a fixture, having spent 23 seasons in the third base coach’s box.
Watt, a tremendous athlete in his own right, was an All-American in track in the early 1970s at Chico State where his shot put record of 58-07 stood for 33 years until it was broken in 2006 by a single inch, and additionally holds the distinction of being a Hall of Fame inductee at both Chico and Butte College
At the conclusion of his collegiate playing days however, Watt chose education as a profession and after a stint in Sonoma County settled in Colusa where he spent 28 years as a teacher.
Over the years, Watt coached track, cross country, football, basketball, wrestling, and soccer, but softball became his sport of choice, not surprising given that he played men’s fastpitch for 40 years.
As a pitcher, Watt faced some of the top teams in the country, and in doing so became a student of the game, with a particular focus on the art of pitching,
It is those experiences in the circle, which led him to choose an era in Colusa softball dominated by pitchers, rather than specific teams as his most memorable.
While the Northern Section, from 2008-2012, featured two of state’s best pitchers in Sutter’s Jessica Moore and Anderson’s Cheridian Hawkins, both of whom went on to star at the University of Oregon, Watt’s teams during that time included Tiffany Friel and Sophia Garcia who weren’t far off the mark, and as a result elevated Colusa softball to the next level after compiling a combined 121-29-6 record.
“What changed the direction of the program as much as anything was the arrival of superior pitching. Not that we hadn’t had competitive pitchers, but they didn’t have the background to control game after game after game,” Watt said. “Tiffany led way and was followed by Sophia. They both had been pitching since they were eight or nine and had a lot of successful experiences playing travel ball.”
In four seasons, Friel tallied 1,282 strikeouts leading the Northern Section in 2009 with 375, while finishing second in 2008 and 2011 after fanning 386 and 388 batters respectively.
A power pitcher whose speed was such that batters couldn’t catch up, Friel’s career numbers also included 89 wins and a miniscule .61 ERA.
Garcia who spent only her sophomore season pitching for Watt, and just a little over two full seasons in the circle for the RedHawks, finished with a career 1.15 ERA, 46 wins and 626 strikeouts, using movement and finesse to baffle opposing hitters.
For Watt, his two pitchers set the tone for everything else as he explained, “With their winning attitude all the positions became better across-the-board. Our defense improved when they were in the game by not having to stay on the field for multiple walks or hits every inning. With Tiffany and Sophia pitching we could count on one, two sometimes three strikeouts an inning. You can definitely play good defense when you only have to make one sometimes two plays an inning.”
In addition to dominant pitching however Colusa also featured some heavy hitters at the plate during those years with the likes of Ashley Lambert, Kiley Herrick, Emiley Correa, and Ashleigh Biggs.
Yet despite all the wins, Watt would garner only one section championship, albeit an epic 12 inning battle that ended in a 4-3 decision over Mt. Shasta to cap his final season coaching the RedHawks.
The RedHawks spent most of the 2012 with just 10 players on the roster, and a starting lineup that included a trio of sophomores and a freshman, although they certainly didn’t play like underclassmen.
Garcia, in the circle, was just a sophomore as were outfielders Yasmin Moreno and Coral Imhoff, while freshman Emily Corriea held down the hot corner, a position she had never before played until that season.
Biggs, the shortstop, hit the cover off the ball in 2012, sporting a .553 average and leading a group of juniors that included catcher Brittanee Garcia, second baseman Mattie Myers along with outfielders Bayleigh Salazar and Katii Rector, while the lone senior was first baseman Katie Mobley.
An underdog going into the championship game, the RedHawks had edged East Nicolaus 1-0 in the semifinal round to earn the right to face No. 1 Mt. Shasta, a team that boasted a 31-3 record on the season and one of the section’s toughest pitchers in Kayla Spini and her .46 ERA.
On her home field in her last game for the Bears, Spini would strike out 17 RedHawk batters, however Garcia was equally as brilliant that day recording 16 of her own in addition to scoring the game winner after a single up the middle off the bat of Biggs.
Garcia then closed out bottom of the 12th, inducing a ground ball to Corriea who threw across the diamond to Mobley for the put out, bringing the curtain down for Watt who quipped at the time, “To be perfectly honest it was good to win because I finally got a championship in something I know about,” as he made reference to the four section titles he won in four years as Colusa’s girls soccer coach.
While the victory marked an end of an era for Watt at the high school level, he went on to spend five seasons as an assistant for Chico State softball, which in 2018 was named the top coaching staff in the western region.
Although now nine seasons removed from his days in Colusa, the success of Colusa softball in the present can be in part attributed to Watt’s commitment to the program and establishment of a winning tradition. ♣