Career win No. 600 was a tribute to coach Mike Noel’s longevity; a second Central Section championship in three seasons a reminder of his Cougars’ long run as a Valley softball power.
Maybe all that was missing was a little more statewide recognition. Check that box, too.
Noel is 2017’s Softball Coach of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports, the preeminent source for statewide coverage of high school athletics.
“Winning a section title is not an absolute prerequisite for becoming State Coach of the Year because in some years there are a great many of those top section titles won by teams with coaches who’ve been honored previously,” Cal-Hi wrote in its announcement. “Still, it’s a huge piece of the formula and it wasn’t easy for Clovis to come out on top in its section.”
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True enough. The Cougars traveled a tough path throughout the season, tying Central atop the Tri-River Athletic Conference at 8-2, but both Clovis losses were to the Grizzlies.
When it came to playoff seeding, Clovis was fourth behind No. 3 Hanford West, No. 2 Central and No. 1 Stockdale.
Fifth-seeded Bullard was no pushover in the second round, with the Cougars escaping 4-3. Clovis then won 4-2 at Stockdale before pulling out a 2-1 win over Central after being no-hit and trailing 1-0 through five innings on championship night at Fresno State’s Margie Wright Diamond.
“We played the game the way we play it when we’re at our best,” Noel said after that final game, which added to previous Valley titles for the softball program in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2015.
The last seven of the Cougars’ titles have come under Noel. That 600th career win came April 11 – a 7-5 victory over Buchanan that made him the fourth in section history to reach that milestone, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
Central Section coaches have won Cal-Hi’s overall coaching award the past two seasons, with Madera’s Judy Shaubach earning the honor in 2016. Before that, the section hadn’t had a State COY in softball since Hanford’s Leslie Steffen in 1981.