This was the year of the Cat.
More precisely the Wildcats.
Sonora defeated Bret Harte, Calaveras and Summerville in 2012 preseason action.
Then these Cats took second place in the ever-robust Valley Oak League, earning a postseason berth.
In the first-round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championships, Sonora dismissed Ceres 9-1.
Then these Cats took 2 of 3 from El Dorado and advanced to the section-championship game.
Sonora’s remarkable season finally came to an end on May 28 in the section-title contest loss to Oakdale.
So, yes, Sonora was clearly the best baseball team in this area. More than that, it’s no stretch to say Sonora was one of the top ballclubs in Northern California. The 2012 Union Democrat All-Area First-Team is highly decorated with Green and Gold.
Besides All-Area Most Valuable Player Ryan Stevenson, earning First-Team honors for Sonora are seniors Bradley Begley, Karson Canaday, Dylan Fernandes, Wyatt Johnson and junior Justin Payne.
“We knew Justin Payne was a good ballplayer coming into this season,” said Wildcats head coach Scott Johnson. “But we had no idea that he was this good.”
Payne batted .382 and blasted a team-high three taters.
“Justin was injured during his freshman and sophomore seasons, so we weren’t able to find out just what he could do until this spring,” said Johnson. “He showed us how hard he was willing to work, and he could swing the bat, so we made sure to always find a spot for him. He was very versatile and skilled in the field, too. He was primarily a first baseman but we could also move him to any other infield spot.”
Pitcher and second baseman Canaday is a First-Teamer for the second consecutive season.
Canaday had a league-leading 28 stolen bases — the second consecutive year he was top thief in the VOL.
Sonora’s leadoff hitter, Canaday hit .433 in 2012 and had an on-base percentage of .513. He led the VOL in runs scored with 40. On the hill, Canaday was 4-4 with an ERA of 3.35.
“Karson was your prototypical leadoff batter — always getting on and then advancing,” said Johnson. “Once he got on base, we knew he was most likely to score. No matter what team we were playing against or what the situation was, once Karson came to the plate, we always had the feeling things would start to happen.”
Batting in the No. 2 slot was Wyatt Johnson, who is also a two-time First-Team honoree.
“Wyatt has a very good baseball mentality,” said Coach Johnson. “He and Karson were an excellent 1-2 combination. Sometimes being the No. 2 hitter, when you have as good a leadoff hitter as Karson is, requires sacrifice. A lot of times you need to bunt. You must take called strikes when Karson gets a good jump so he can steal that base. You’re often hitting with bad counts. But Wyatt dealt with all that fine.
“In center field, Wyatt showed he had one of the strongest arms in the VOL.”
Begley, Sonora’s third baseman, was deadly with the lumber. Begley batted a league-high .451, had a league-high 31 RBIs and a team-high slugging percentage of .637.
“Bradley Begley had an outstanding offensive year,” said Coach Johnson. “He carried us the first few weeks of the season. Most kids have a hard time hitting early in the season and that was the case with us — except for Bradley. His bat carried us to quite a few early-season wins that we probably would not have gotten without him.”
Fernandes, the Wildcats’ three-year starting catcher, is a repeat First-Team All-Area honoree.
“Dylan was our iron-man,” said Coach Johnson. “We had no backup plan with regards to catcher. We had Dylan, and we banked on him. He caught every single inning of every one of our 31 games. Hot days, double-headers, it didn’t matter — Dylan was ready. And what a solid No. 3 hitter he was.”
Fernandes had an on-base percentage of .570, runner-up in the VOL. He hit .427 and drove in 25 runs. His 15 stolen bases were second in the VOL.
Earning First-Team honors for Mother Lode League-runner up Calaveras are seniors Thomas Douglas and Jarrod Kennedy. Both helped lead Calaveras to the quarterfinals of the Division V Championships.
Douglas was the MLL’s top pitcher with a league-best 0.81 ERA. In 43 innings worked, Douglas struck out 59.
“We were at our best when Thomas was on the mound,” said Redskins head coach Mike Koepp. “He was so consistent and did an outstanding job for us. He also swung a strong bat.”
Douglas had a team-high 22 hits and batted .333.
Kennedy, an outfielder, hit .353 with an on-base-percentage of .522, both team-highs.
“Jarrod had a tremendous turnaround from the year before,” said Koepp. “He worked very hard and all that work paid off with a big season.”
Bret Harte closed out its regular season with victories in four consecutive must-have ballgames. Bret Harte then advanced to the quarterfinals after a first-round win over Lindhurst.
Bullfrog senior Josh Bailey was unquestionably the MLL’s best all-round player in 2012. For the second consecutive season, Bailey is a First-Team All-Area honoree.
“Josh Bailey has crazy bat-speed,” said Coach Johnson. “I was always very impressed with him.”
“All season, Josh Bailey was absolutely amazing,” said Bret Harte head coach Zack Abernathy. “He did everything for us.”
Bailey hit for average, hit for power, was a demon on the base paths and a skilled fireballer.
In 29 innings pitched, Bailey struck out 54 and had three saves. On offense, he batted a league-high .521 with an outrageous .849 slugging percentage. He had a league-high seven triples. His 26 stolen bases (in 28 attempts) were also a league-high.
“Josh Bailey just dominated games this season,” said Summerville head coach Larry Gold. “He was outstanding.”
Gold’s best player was First-Team All-Area honoree Bryce Farrell.
Just a freshman, Farrell batted .403, had 16 RBIs and two homers — all team-highs. He was also a sure-scoop shortstop with a strong arm.
“Bryce was fantastic at shortstop and at the plate,” said Gold. “To hit over .400 is great for anyone but for a freshman to do that is unbelievable.”