Imagine how many times Jace Todd has been left out because he has special needs. Dixon High’s baseball team has changed that by accepting the junior – so much so that Jace was the leadoff batter for the Rams in Monday’s game against Laguna Creek at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento. And once he hit the ball, there was no stopping him. Jace raced around the bases and was greeted by the Rams after scoring. Jace is special because the Rams think of him as one of them.
Shawna and Brad Humphries waited with open arms Feb. 25 for their daughter Brianna to emerge from the locker room at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Brianna had just led Dixon High School’s girls basketball team to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship. Her proud parents were eager to embrace the 6-foot-1 senior for a once-in-a-lifetime celebration.
Brianna blew right past her parents, however, just as she did with any Calaveras player who dared to get in her way during the Rams’ 48-42 victory. Her first celebratory hug other than with a teammate or coach was reserved for her biggest fan and tiniest relative. Brianna hoisted her 6-year-old cousin, Sebastian Fernandez, into her arms in much the same manner she had lifted her teammates with 27 points and 16 rebounds.
According to Brianna, her bond with Sebastian stems from each being the only child in their respective families. It also might be because their birthdays are one day apart and make for a perfect time to have a family get-together. And when Sebastian began to play baseball, Brianna shared the fundamentals she learned in softball.
“I don’t have many cousins living near me,” Brianna said. “(Sebastian) has always been there for me. It’s always been me and him. We’re two peas in a pod.”
Sebastian is just old enough to remember when Brianna was down and out in her junior year after tearing the meniscus in her right knee. She sustained the injury with her AAU team, which kept her active when the 2020-21 high school basketball season was postponed to late April and then shortened to just 10 Golden Empire League games.
Such a setback was nothing new for Brianna even though she said the pain was far worse than when she tore two ligaments and the meniscus in the same knee as a freshman. The brace she now wears on her right knee suggests she is not 100 percent, but anyone fortunate enough to have watched Brianna during the section playoffs will say that nothing appears to be wrong with her.
Her reconstructed knee is why Brianna has decided to play softball in college at San Diego Christian instead of opting for basketball or water polo. She received three scholarship offers for softball, but two came from small colleges in the Midwest and she would rather stay closer to home. UC Davis offered her a scholarship for water polo, but Brianna ranks water polo as her No. 3 sport even though she was the starting goalie for the Rams last November when Dixon won the section Division III championship.
Brianna is not breaking up with basketball because no college showed enough interest in her to offer a scholarship. The words of the surgeon who repaired her knee are still ringing in her ears. He told her matter of factly that her knee would not withstand four years of college basketball. She also remembers the toll of playing as many as five AAU games in a weekend took on her knee last year and likely led to her meniscus tearing for a second time.
Her left knee was an issue in the section championship game. Brianna fell in the third quarter and scraped her knee on the hardwood. Not only did she have to leave the game so her knee could be bandaged, but she also made mistake of touching the scrap and then wiping her hand on her shorts. It took some time for those in charge at Golden 1 Center to find a person with enough medical merit to patch her knee and clean the stain on her shorts.
“They were taking like forever. It was a whole fiasco,” said Brianna, who sprinted to the scorers table once her knee was bandaged and returned to the court at the next break in the action. There was just one slight problem, however. Brianna was in such a hurry to re-enter the game that she did not think of checking with head coach Mike Gilliard as she sprinted by him to find out which teammate she would be replacing.
There are plenty of folks in Dixon who will say Brianna is irreplaceable, but she does not act as if she is. She does not clamor for attention even though she was the center of it after Dixon defeated Calaveras. As her teammates made their way to the press conference room, Brianna was stopped on the court by the Sac-Hi Sports camera crew for an interview. Once she rejoined the team, reporters wasted no time in asking her about everything from her upbringing and parents (Brad played football at Vacaville High and Shawna was a swimmer at Dixon) to her knee injuries and college aspirations. She did not expect or want to be thrust into the spotlight.
“I didn’t want it to be all about me. It was a team effort,” Brianna said. “We knew from the beginning (of the season) that we were aiming for something much higher than league. We were shooting for state. That was our whole goal. We all know we can do it.”
It was not meant to be for the Rams, however. Dixon defeated Chico in the first round of the Northern California Division III playoffs for its 19th consecutive victory, but the Rams were no match against Oakland Tech in a 78-38 rout. At least Humphries and her teammates can say they lost to the best Division III girls team in the state after Oakland Tech claimed the championship with a 39-33 victory over La Salle.
Braden Baumbach appeared to be going nowhere on this run for Dixon High’s junior varsity team against Winters last Friday. Baumbach refused to go down, however, and broke loose to score his third touchdown in the Rams’ 49-14 victory.