SOFTBALL: Mustangs advance to CCS finals

From left, Stephanie Rodriquez, Vanessa Tellez and Dani Hemeon

No. 3 GHS outlasts No. 7 Leland 1-0 in thrilling pitcher’s
A year hiatus from the section championship game was long enough. On Tuesday, the Gilroy High softball team did something about it.

And for the third time in four years the Mustangs will meet the San Benito Haybalers to decide the Central Coast Division I championship.

Both schools moved past their respective semifinals tests Tuesday night to set up a much-anticipated final, slated for Saturday.

The Mustangs went on a much different route to get to their semifinals victory than their 11-2 win over St. Francis in the quarterfinals. The pitching and defense were again the backbone. The difference – the hits weren’t falling as freely.

“We got the few key hits that we needed,” GHS manager Julie Berggren said.

Michelle Sosa delivered the one that mattered most, an RBI single to centerfield, scoring Holly Lam in the bottom of the fifth inning for the eventual game winner in a 1-0 squeaker against Leland at PAL Stadium in San Jose.

“It was a good pitch and I just drove it. I knew I needed to. It was the fifth inning already,” Sosa said.

Until the back-to-back hits, the Mustangs and Chargers managed a combined six hits in what turned into a pitcher’s duel, in the truest sense, between Gilroy’s Sarah Lorraine Lira and Leland’s Devyn Quevedo.

Lira needed just six pitches to get through the second inning, setting the Chargers down in order in three of the seven frames and never faced more than four batters in an inning. She ended her outing with four strikeouts.

Gilroy had the first chance to score way back in the opening frame after lead off hitter Casey Lester singled and worked her way to third on a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly. The Mustangs had runners on the corners when Lira was intentionally walked. But the threat fizzled on a bizarre call by one of the three umpire’s who indicated that Lira stepped off first base while the pitcher had already taken her place in the circle, resulting in the third out.

With the score deadlocked at 0-0, Lam, a freshman inserted into the starting line-up for the first time this postseason, blistered the triple to the left-field fence to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Sosa produced her base hit one batter later.

“I was just thinking that I needed to get as far as I could and be safe,” Lam said. “I wasn’t sure (if I was in the line-up today), but I knew if I was in I had to be focused and ready to go.”

A golden opportunity to add a couple insurance runs eluded the Mustangs in the bottom of the sixth. A Lira walk, Lindsay Holt double and Lam intentional walk loaded the bases with one out. Sosa lifted a fly ball to center, more than deep enough to score the runner from third. However, pinch runner Kaylana Mah misread the ball and didn’t get back to the bag in time to tag up.

“It’s not like it’s something that we don’t work on,” Berggren said about the team’s base running. “In fact, it’s something that we have been stressing a lot lately. It’s a little frustrating but right now, it’s just a lesson learned. Luckily it didn’t come back to bite us.”

It almost did.

Alexis Morales started the Leland seventh with a base hit, reaching second on a passed ball and third on a sacrifice fly. Lira, though, induced the ensuing batter to fly out to third for the second. Not out of the woods yet, Lira fell behind Andrea Sargis 2-0. The senior, took a moment to collect herself before settling back into the circle.

“I try my hardest not to panic,” Lira said. “I try to stay focused and I have 100-percent confidence in my defense. As a pitcher I can’t let anything get to me; just focus on the next pitch.”

Two pitches later, Lira retired Sargis on another fly ball to seal the win and trip to the finals for the first time since 2009 against a very familiar opponent.

“It is what we all wanted,” Lira said. “I’m excited to see them again. Now it’s finally here.”

The Balers defeated Carlmont 5-0 behind 11 strikeouts by Brittany Sabattini.

The Mustangs and Balers, who have won five straight section titles, first met in the finals in 2008 – an 8-3 victory for San Benito. The teams reacquainted the following year and the Balers again prevailed, this by a 4-3 margin.

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