Don’t let the seeds fool you. Gilroy reached the Central Coast Section Division II softball playoffs by the skin of its garlic, winning four of its final six games in Tri-County Athletic League play.
The 12th-seeded Mustangs looked as mighty as ever though in the role of underdog to an up-and-coming No. 5 Sobrato team.
Gilroy pounded out 16 hits, including a 4-for-5 effort by Casey Lester, and withstood a late rally to win 9-4 Wednesday at windy Sobrato High School in a superbly-played first-round contest between two of the younger teams in the tournament.
While the Bulldogs’ first-ever postseason ended, the Mustangs appeared to be just getting started in their Division II playoff debut, which they hope leads to a fourth CCS final in five years and a long-awaited championship ring.
“You can never give up,” said the La Salle-bound Lester, one of four seniors on the Gilroy side. “We learned in those CCS title games that anything can happen. Anyone can win the game. We just have to play it through the best we can.”
The game featured 20 underclassmen and a duel between freshman starters Lauren Castro of Gilroy and Samantha Torres of Sobrato.
Both sides were aggressive at the plate and made spectacular plays in the field, including diving stops by shortstops Heather Johnson (SHS) and Kaylana Mah (GHS), and an over-the-shoulder grab by Mustangs left fielder Nicole Green to rob Johnson of a run-scoring hit in the sixth.
The Santa Teresa Division co-champion Bulldogs were overmatched, however, against Gilroy’s collective hitting strength. Seven different Mustangs hit safely.
“That particular flight of girls was the same one Gilroy Chaos had during that great season in 2007,” Sobrato manager Gene Ciraulo said. “They could hit then, and now they’re seniors. They’re a quality team.”
Gilroy (13-13) will play in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday in PAL Stadium against No. 4 Los Altos, which beat No. 13 Willow Glen 5-0 on Wednesday. The winner will face top seed Archbishop Mitty or No. 8 Presentation.
The Mustangs will be in upset mode the rest of the way, but they aren’t intimidated.
“It’s kind of nice being a higher seed for once,” Gilroy manager Julie Berggren said. “With where we finished and everything, it might be a surprise to people, but it’s not a surprise to us. We know what kind of a team and what caliber of people we have. It just hasn’t shown up in every game this year. It that sense, it’s fabulous how we did today.”
Gilroy built a 5-0 lead in the first four innings and, after Sobrato pulled to within 6-4, answered its only challenge with a back-breaking three-run seventh.
Holly Lam sparked the Mustangs’ offense with an inside-the-park home run to right to lead off the second.
“That really put us up because she’s been struggling at the plate a lot; she hits the ball hard but right at people,” Lester said. “That helped her and got us into the game.”
The Mustangs went ahead 4-0 in the third with a sacrifice fly by Castro and an RBI single by Shawnte Garcia (3 for 4). Catcher Amber Gamboa (2 for 3 with a walk) scored on a passed ball, and Mah added a run-scoring single up the middle in the fourth.
“They hit the ball well,” said Torres, who went the distance to finish 12-4 for the year. “So I was thinking, ‘Just go for it. Whatever happens, happens.’”
Castro (10-7) kept the Bulldogs at bay with a shifty fastball that was located well. She allowed one hit, a two-out single by Johnson (2 for 3) in the third, and struck out five in four scoreless innings.
“With a freshman in the playoffs, you never know,” Gamboa said. “But she kept her cool and stayed calm the whole way.”
The Bulldogs (17-6) had better luck against Lam, whom they greeted with three runs in the fifth as Johnson and Morgan Martinelli (2 for 4) came through for RBI singles to left, and Mackenzie Mitchell scored on an error to make it 5-3. Sobrato turned up the heat on the base paths.
“The girls just finally realized they needed to catch up,” Ciraulo said.
Mah drove in her second run of the day on a single in the sixth, but the Bulldogs responded in the bottom half, as Torres (2 for 3) tripled and scored on a wild pitch. Johnson came up three batters later with a runner on first and sent a shot to left that held up in the wind just enough for Green to haul it in.
“Definitely,” Johnson said when asked if she thought it was going to fall. “Props to her, though. She made a great catch.”
Afterward the Bulldogs were still on a high from winning a share of their first league title Friday.
“We made history this year – that was the big thing,” Torres said. “People here know about (Sobrato) for other sports. Softball is coming up.”
The Bulldogs graduate four players this year, a telling sign of where the program is heading.
“It’s a good thing that it’s our first year going to CCS during my senior year. It’s been amazing,” Johnson said. “This is a good feeling.”