SOFTBALL: Third time’s the charm for GHS?

Go mustangs!

Two down, one to go; final test the toughest in Gilroy’s quest
for CCS title
For a team that expects it should be playing for a title every season, a one-year hiatus from the section championship game is long enough.

On Tuesday, the Gilroy High softball team did something about it.

Michelle Sosa delivered the hit that mattered most, a 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.

Even though the Mustangs had reached a plateau, the celebration stayed subdued – a few fist pumps, some hugs, but nothing over the top.

Why? Because there is still more to be done to reach the peak.

Similar to the feeling of finishing a final exam but knowing there is another test to take around the corner, the gratification of completing one usually doesn’t deliver the full satisfaction until the entire workload is settled.

The Mustangs’ return to the championship stage is welcomed by an all-too-familiar foe, San Benito, winners of the last five section titles.

There is no secret that the third meeting in four years between the two juggernauts in the finals has been on the minds of everyone involved since Day 1 of the season.

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

The Balers denied the Mustangs championship glory in 2008 and 2009. The second go-around left a wound that still lingers and set off a trend of close ball games over the past two seasons.

Gilroy led in that ’09 encounter 3-1, four outs away from the crown, until a bases-clearing triple extinguished it all.

Since then, the Balers have won four straight games over the Mustangs – 16 in all dating back to 2006 – by a combined five runs, including another comeback victory in 2010, which snatched the Tri-County Athletic League title right out of the Mustangs’ hands. This season, the two regular-season matchups followed the nail-biter theme, both going to the Balers, 4-2 and 2-1.

So close, so many times only to be denied just as frequently.

“From the beginning of the season, we planned on seeing ourselves in the CCS championship game,” assistant coach Bria DeLorenzo said at practice Wednesday.

Seven seniors make up the GHS roster and none have experienced triumph against their rivals. Two, Lira and Stephanie Rodriguez, were on the team as freshman, going through both finals defeats. Three others, Lindsay Holt, Melanie Morelos and Dani Hemeon, went through the ’09 heartbreaker as sophomores. Casey Lester and Michelle Sosa, juniors this season, were there as freshman.

“It is kind of like slaying the beast,” DeLorenzo said. “We knew that we had a championship team here. It’s about motivating them to get over that hump and realize that it is their turn.”

The Baler beast isn’t easy to challenge. San Benito, headed by the knowledgeable Scott Smith, has eight seniors of its own – a group that has won throughout its entire prep career.

“I know the two games we’ve played (Gilroy) this year were both close,” Smith said after his team’s win Tuesday. “We’ve got a game plan to go against them and I’m sure they have one against us. It should be a good game.”

With the Balers’ abilities in just about every facet of the game fundamentally sound, the room for error is marginal at best – especially at this point of the season.

Morelos summed it up well. “We have nothing left, really. It’s our last game,” she said. “There isn’t much for us to learn now.”

The Mustangs took two completely different routes to their two postseason wins thus far – an offensive-heavy 11-2 victory in the quarterfinals and the 1-0 breathtaker Tuesday, where sound defense and stingy pitching, plus two key hits, aided the win. A combination of the two on Saturday would help the Mustangs’ cause.

Wednesday’s practice took on a much more business-like feel. Manager Julie Berggren implored her players to take advantage of the three days and put forth a concentrated effort.

Could it be a proverbial third-time’s-the-charm scenario? The Mustangs wouldn’t mind that.

Either way the contest is a fitting crescendo to four entertaining years between two high-quality programs.

For GHS, four years of anguish can mean absolutely nothing come Saturday afternoon.

Game time is 12:30 p.m. at San Jose’s PAL Stadium.

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