So much for conventional wisdom – and the best attempts of the Central Section's competitive equity process – that all the best high school sports teams are grouped in Division I.
At least that doesn't appear to be the case in softball.
Division II Frontier defeated D-III Ridgeview 4-0 Tuesday in the final of the Clovis Easter Classic, a 22-team tournament typically dominated by D-I schools, particularly those from the Tri-River Athletic Conference.
"When I played at Liberty, every time I came here, the Clovis schools were the teams to beat," said first-year Frontier coach Lisa Moore, a 2005 Liberty graduate. "We're a top team now and I told our kids this is the time to prove it, on their home turf."
There wasn't a TRAC school to be found in this year's semifinals, where Frontier came from behind to defeat D-III Hanford West 3-2 in extra-innings and Ridgeview broke up Sierra Hyland's one-hit shutout in the seventh for a 1-0 win over El Diamante, a program promoted from D-II to D-I this season after reaching three of the past four D-II finals.
All four semifinalists went 4-0 in pool play, defeating at least one TRAC school along the way.
"It's a very interesting section this year," said El Diamante coach Travis Roebuck, whose team was denied a spot in the finals when Ridgeview's Madelaine Wilen delivered a run-scoring single in the bottom of the seventh for the game's only run.
"You think about it, and a chunk of your top teams are D-II and D-III schools."
Frontier is at the top of the list after getting a two-run single from Traci Schnaidt that provided all the runs Valerie Grijalva would need while pitching a two-hit shutout in the final.
The Titans, one of Bakersfield's newest high schools in their fourth season as a varsity program, are 27-1 on the season. Their only loss is to defending D-I champion Stockdale, rated as the top-ranked team in the section by The Bee.
If the section seeded teams into playoff brackets based on their success in the current season, it's a good bet Frontier, Ridgeview and Hanford West all would be invited to the D-I party.
"The divisions don't mean a thing," said Buchanan coach Dean Gregory, whose team, which entered as one of the tournament favorites, lost to Ridgeview in pool play. "Ridgeview is a talented team. Frontier and Hanford West are talented and compete with any team at any level."
Hanford West (16-4) appeared headed for the final on the strength of Jessica Heffley's solo home run in the third inning of their semifinal against Ridgeview.
But the Wolf Pack tied it on Schnaidt's run-scoring single in the fifth and won it on an RBI hit by Schnaidt in the seventh, an inning played under tournament tiebreaker rules (with a runner placed at third to start the frame) because the 90-minute time limit had expired.
Huskies coach Jeff Harger said a final four without a TRAC team speaks to the rising level of softball being played all around the section.
"You're getting a lot more kids playing travel ball and the kids are getting better everywhere," Harger said. "The coaching is getting a lot better, too."