SOFTBALL: Balers baffle Mustangs, 2-0

Gilroy's Vanessa Tellez makes a catch in right field for the out Tuesday during their game against San Benito. 

How do you solve a problem like San Benito? The Gilroy High softball team has been baffled in finding an answer to that conundrum since March 21, 2006. And the Mustangs’ quest will continue as the Balers again squeaked past GHS 2-0 on Tuesday in Gilroy.

The victory is San Benito’s 19th straight over its Tri-County Athletic League rival – a streak that includes three victories in the Central Coast Section championship game. Of the 19 wins, nine have been decided by two runs or less. San Benito handed Gilroy a 5-1 setback earlier this season.

“That’s the story of this rivalry, it really is. And that’s what makes it such a great rivalry – it’s always a game like this. It’s always one play or one hit that decides their win,” GHS manager Julie Berggren said. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know why Gilroy High can’t seem to beat them.”

Again on Tuesday, San Benito came up with the key hit – a one-out RBI double to the left field fence by Ellie Burley to plate Britt Sparrer to break a scoreless tie in the top of the fifth.

“(The pitch) was up a little bit and she got out in front of it,” Berggren said. “Had she not been out in front it would have gone right to our left fielder.”

Burley, whose double was one of four Baler hits on the day, later scored on Brittani Newman’s sacrifice fly to right field, which provided plenty of cushion with starter Megan Sabbatini in the circle.

Sabbatini was dialed in Tuesday. After allowing a second-inning single to opposing starter Lauren Castro, the junior retired 10 Mustangs in a row over the next three-plus frames. In the fifth, a two-out walk and a single by Vanessa Tellez broke that string and was Gilroy’s best chance at getting on the board. Sabbatini, though, induced a soft line drive to shortstop that ended the threat.

“She has kind of had some up and downs, but today, against one of the best hitting teams that we are going to face, she was lights out,” San Benito manager Scott Smith said.

Sabbatini set the Mustangs down in order in the sixth and seventh to preserve her two-hit shutout.

“Megan pitched so well against us today, but we were right there,” Berggren said. “We swung at good pitches. Of course I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the hit that we needed, but she didn’t make us look like fools.”

Castro, a freshman, matched Sabbatini’s efficiency pitch for pitch through the first four innings, surrendering two hits and striking out five leading up to the back-to-back hits by Sparrer and Burley in the fifth.

Sophomore Holly Lam spelled Castro after the double, and after allowing the inherited runner across on the sacrifice fly, Lam shut the door on the Balers the rest of the way.

“Their pitchers did a great job,” Smith said. “It was two tough teams. We couldn’t take a pitch off.”

Sabbatini finished with nine strikeouts.

With Gilroy likely moving into the CCS Division II bracket should it get into the postseason, the two teams, which have played in some of the most thrilling playoff contests to date (most recenlty the 2011 finals, where a two-out, walk-off hit lifted the Balers to their sixth straight section crown) will not see each other again this season. San Benito (17-2 overall, 8-1 TCAL), which can clinch its third consecutive league title Thursday, will get slotted into the Division I bracket.

“It’s fun playing them, but at the same time it’s nice not having to play them because they are so good,” Smith said.

Both teams have three league tilts remaining, however Gilroy’s trio of contests carry’s the Mustangs’ (9-10 overall, 4-5 TCAL) playoff aspirations with them.

“Crucial,” Berggren said. “We have to now win at least two league games.”

The Mustangs are at Alvarez Thursday, home to North Salinas next Tuesday and at second-place Salinas on May 10. The Balers host Notre Dame on Thursday, then close the regular season on the road at Alisal and Alvarez next week.

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