It’s rare that two players recognized as the best in the area not only battled each other for league supremacy that season, but will do so for year another year.
The Napa Valley Register’s 2020-21 Napa County Softball Co-Players of the Year are Vintage’s Shelby Morse and American Canyon’s Jaida Fulcher, who will embark on their senior and sophomore seasons, respectively, in about three months.
Fulcher’s Wolves won first of the two Vine Valley Athletic League showdowns between their teams, 2-1. Vintage got revenge with a 5-3 win in its penultimate game, pulling into a first-place tie with American Canyon (13-2, 11-1 VVAL). But the Crushers (11-2, 10-2 VVAL) fell to Petaluma in their finale to finish second.
“American Canyon's softball team this past year was super fun to play against,” Morse said. “They're a very gritty team and are super competitive with us, and they gave us fun competition all throughout last season. I am super thrilled to be playing them again this year because of that competitive level.
“Jaida was super fun to compete against, either from the mound or from the plate. I think she did a great job of challenging our team's abilities and making us all better players. I am super excited to be playing against her again next year, and I am honored to be selected for Co-Player of the Year with her.”
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Fulcher had a home run in the loss to Vintage and thought it was off Morse. But it was off fellow pitcher Raimy Gamsby, according to MaxPreps.com.
“She’s a really good pitcher,” Fulcher said of Morse. “I don’t know if we played Little League together because I played Little League in Napa, but she brings the competition a lot and I like hitting off of her.”
Morse prepping for college ball in Florida
was 7-0 on the season, with all of her wins and 35 of her 38 innings coming in league play. She compiled a 1.66 ERA, giving up only nine earned runs on 51 strikeouts with 20 hits and 18 walks allowed and two hit batters.
She gave up just one extra-base hit, a two-run homer by Petaluma’s Myranda Lynch in the top of the seventh inning of a 7-2 victory over the Trojans in their first meeting — momentum Petaluma seemed to take into its season-ending shocker over the Crushers weeks later.
The Crushers had only one nonleague game and no playoffs, as the North Coast Section had canceled postseason play over concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams were not allowed to play more than one county away as 13 sports were contested in less than three months.
Morse — who also plays first base — has been swapping starting and relief pitching roles with Gamsby — who also threw 38 innings this past spring — ever since they were freshmen, in head coach Robert Poppe’s first season at the helm.
Morse also led the Crushers with a .618 batting average, 18 RBIs and two home runs in 2021, and was second behind lone senior Jordan Allen with 21 hits.
“Shelby is a good pitcher with a tremendous bat,” Poppe said. “She can play any position other than catcher. She is always a challenge for other teams to hit off her, and she can carry a team with her bat.”
Morse started playing in the Napa Junior Girls Softball League and has stayed sharp by playing in the Napa Valley Girls Fastpitch Association recreational league after her eighth- and ninth-grade years, and for “about eight different travel teams” since she was 8.
“I played for Poppe on Binstock Enterprises,” she said of NVGFA Major Division champion in 2018. “Outside of high school, I currently play for the Ohana Tigers Atkinson team. The travel team I'm on right now is extremely fun and competitive. We travel all across California and out of state to play in tournaments. I would say this is single-handedly the best team chemistry on a travel ball team that I have had in a while.”
Morse credited being Vintage’s version of 2021 American League MVP Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels — a pitcher who can hit — to working with 2011 Napa County Player of the Year Hailey Breakwell, who helped lead Justin-Siena to a section title that year.
“I had started working with Hailey in June of 2020, when she came back to Napa from playing professionally for the New Zealand national team. I had previously taken fielding lessons from her when I was 13 or 14. She's a great hitting instructor and has taught me so much about mental game and how to really understand my swing, down to the fundamentals.”
She and Gamsby have contrasting styles, as evidenced by Gamsby’s 68 strikeouts — 17 more than Morse had — and three home runs allowed. Gamsby didn’t allow any doubles or triples, either — a testament to the pitchers’ talented teammates in the field, as well.
“Coming onto varsity as a freshmen isn't an easy process for any athlete (and) it was a challenge that we both faced to perform well at a newer aspect of softball. It is really nice to have a person on the team that is dynamic with me,” Morse said. “Raimy and I really complement each other on the mound, and work extremely well together. In high school, the team is all about support for each other and being able to pick each other up. I think Raimy and I illustrate that aspect about the team really well.
“High school softball has some great benefits of being able to challenge yourself at things you might not what to challenge yourself at. The competitiveness in high school softball is different than that of travel ball. You get to know some of the players from other teams better than you do in travel ball. I honestly think that's my favorite thing about high school softball, where you can finish a great game and congratulate the other team and get to know the other players better. Or as a freshman, to get to see a senior finish out her last game of high school softball. I'd say it's more interpersonal amongst your team and other high schools.”
Morse verbally committed in mid-October to continue her softball career at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and signed with the Division II Eagles on Nov. 10. Their head coach is Kelsi Dunne and their first assistant coach is Stephanie Ceo, a 2010 graduate of Bear River High in Grass Valley who led the Bruins to a Sac-Joaquin Section title as a senior, hitting two home runs in the championship game. Ceo went on to start four years for Texas, batting .362 as a sophomore and leading the Longhorns to the 2013 Women’s College World Series.
“Coach Stephanie was my connection to ERAU when it came to recruiting,” Morse said. “It was a super awesome process and I am so stoked to be going there next year.”
Morse’s current GPA is about 4.4 weighted, 3.91 unweighted. She said she plans to major in communications, and has never been particularly interested in aeronautics.
“However, I am pretty optimistic,” she said, “and I will definitely keep an open mind when attending ERAU because of the opportunities that are there in relation to aviation and aerospace.”
She is the younger of Tina and Bryan Morse’s two daughters, the other being 2019 Vintage graduate Dellaina Morse, who played four years of basketball and softball only as a freshman.
Shelby did about the opposite, playing basketball only as a sophomore on the varsity.
“I do not plan to play basketball this year, either, as I am taking some pretty heavy classes this year and want to make sure I get them under my belt before I get into softball season,” she said. “I also think I kind of fell out of the desire to play basketball because of COVID last year and just not thinking it was the right fit for me. But I will still go and watch the girls play, and watch my old teammates compete.”
Fulcher no typical high school rookie
Fulcher led American Canyon with 26 hits and, like Morse, led her team in batting average (.591), RBIs (23) and home runs (six). She tied for the Wolves’ home-run lead with sophomore Leila Jackson, who had three of her six in one game. The Wolves belted 25 homers as a team.
Fulcher was also fourth on the team in runs scored (16), had three doubles, and walkes as many times as she struck out (three) in the 15-game season.
As a pitcher, she was 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA, 30 strikeouts, 17 walks, and no hit batters or extra-base hits allowed in 26 1/3 innings of work. She was on a three-pitcher staff with junior Yanesa Rosas (40 2/3 innings, 26 strikeouts, 10 walks) and freshman Alexandria Yra (24 innings, 21 strikeouts, 10 walks).
“I’ve been a blow-it-by-them pitcher but I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older, girls’ hitting gets a lot better so you can’t always just blow it by them,” she said.
She’s played seven seasons of travel ball with the Lady Magic, having just moved up to the 16-and-under age division.
“We were just at PGF (Premier Girls Fastpitch) Nationals in August in Southern California and we did pretty good,” said Fulcher. “We didn’t get as far as we wanted to, but when we went to nationals in 12U we got 17th in the nation.”
She pitches and plays third base in travel ball, but pitched and played first for the Wolves.
“Since I was younger, my goal was always to make varsity as a freshman, and once I achieved that goal I was super happy and relieved. It took a lot of work in past year to get where I am today. I would say high school is less competitive, except when we play Vintage because they have really good girls on that team, too. We all grew up playing together on travel teams with them, and playing them in high school is even more fun.”
Fulcher estimated that 12 or 13 of American Canyon’s 14 players last spring also played travel ball. Six Wolves were freshmen, three were sophomores and four were juniors, with Maddy Chambers being the only senior.
None of the other Wolves are on her Lady Magic team, but she knew from playing against them that American Canyon would have a pretty talented bunch when they all got to high school this year.
“We weren’t as close as we are now, but we knew we would be really good and it would be really fun to play with each other,” Fulcher said. “We all get along and we like to compete. We always make goals for the whole team. One of our goals was to have everybody get at least one hit or contribute in some way in each game. We always make each other better.”
Fulcher said it would have been fun to have playoffs after finishing first in the VVAL, but she said it was fun to be competing again — period.
“It was really motivating to actually get outside, because (for most of 2020) we were all virtual learning,” she said. “Being able to get out of the house and actually go to practice every day and play games was really motivating. It felt like things were going to get better and back to normal. We played every game like it was our last.”
Fulcher said being on a team with seven home-run hitters and a team batting average of .415 forced her to look at the game in a different way.
“My teammates definitely made me better as a person and a player,” she said. “l learned from their perspective and being around them taught me about the game. It changed me as a person. I used to think (more) about myself, but they helped me see other perspectives, made me see the game a lot better — especially the upperclassmen like Raegan (Jackson) and Maddy (Chambers). They taught me a few things I’ll never forget, like to go all-out because at the end of the game you don’t want to regret anything, that ‘I should have done this’ or ‘I should have done that.’”
The only child of Lika and Raoul Fulcher loved the enthusiastic fan turnout the Wolves got this season.
“That’s one of my favorite parts, seeing the crowd, especially when my parents are there,” she said. “Honestly, when they are smiling and cheering and everything, it motivates me to do more.”
She doesn’t think having all of the success she had in high school softball right out of the gate has affected her work ethic.
“Every day I just want to get better. I’m never satisfied,” she said. “I’ve just got to keep working.”
She said Wolves head coach Roger Harris and assistant coach Kelsee Romero keep the players from getting overworked.
“It’s a lot of fun playing for Coach Roger and Coach Kelsee. They’re really good coaches and they make it fun,” Fulcher said. “They’re always joking and making all of us laugh. I don’t think there was a game where were super overstressed or anything. I think the only game where were really nervous was when we played Vintage in our last game because it was our senior’s last game and we wanted to do really good for her.
“Our team was pretty upset that it wasn’t for a title, but everybody in our league knows who got first place.”
She doesn’t have any sport other than softball now, but Fulcher did karate until she was 10 or 11 and got into softball. She also played volleyball and basketball in middle school.
Another aspect people might not know about Fulcher is that she’s a Christian.
“My faith is a really big part of me and it’s nothing I’m ashamed about, because I grew up in a Christian household,” she said.
She said her favorite class is chemistry, partly because Coach Romero teaches it.
“She doesn’t let me slack off. She expects my best every time,” she said of Romero. “She sets the standards high for me, which I appreciate. I’m really hard on myself about my grades. I expect myself to get a 4.0 or above. I want to major in sports medicine and be an athletic trainer. If I don’t go down that road, I want to be a lawyer. I’m learning how to manage my time a lot better with practices, workouts, and school work and balancing social time with my friends.”
She thanked her parents, teammates and travel coaches.
“I definitely would not be here without my parents because they helped me throughout the whole thing, along with a lot of my teammates,” she said. “They’ve encouraged me even when I’ve let them down. I’ve gone through everything with my teammates. They’re like the sisters I’ve always wanted.
“My travel coaches, Matt Boykin, Staci Rosenberger, Eric Graham and Vince Vabat, have been really big parts of my life, too. They’ve been my coaches for a long time and taught me a lot.”
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