STOCKTON – The Napa softball team was the little No. 8 seed that could.
The Indians pulled off another upset of No. 3 Del Campo, 9-8, this time to win the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title Friday at Arnaiz Softball Complex.
“I am just really proud of all of us, especially Jenna (Baker),” the team’s only senior, Shelby Lehman, said of Napa’s sophomore pitching ace. “My senior year, we go out with a section championship.”
This has been a year of firsts for the program.
Head coach Tammie Mansuy was in her first year in charge of the team, assisted by DeAnna Bowers, Randi Golding and Ashlee Sills.
Every player picked up her first Big Game win, the young squad defeating Vintage for the first time since 2012 to end a streak that had spanned 13 games.
Now they have claim to the first softball section championship in school history.
“I have lost a lot of Big Games over the years,” Lehman said. “I think we proved to everyone in Napa that we are capable of winning this section title. We are such a young team, no one expected us to win anything this season. I am just so excited right now.”
While Thursday’s 5-4 win over Del Campo had been a pitchers’ duel for most of the day, Friday’s championship game was the complete opposite. It was a slugfest, with the two squads combining for 30 hits.
Even so, both pitchers had dominant moments while going the distance.
Del Campo (25-7) got an inconsistent start from senior ace Brooke Larsen, who gave up nine earned runs and struck out 10 batters. But she pitched three games in a 24-hour period, including a 4-1 win over St. Mary’s in an elimination game late Thursday night.
Napa got to the Cougars’ star pitcher in the first inning. Grace Guzman and Brianna Bowers led off the game with singles, and McKenna Walls followed with a line drive to center field to score Guzman from second base. Haylee Giarritta was then hit in the head by a pitch to load the bases. The sophomore was not injured from the strike and stayed in the game.
Baker then gave herself some run support, smacking a ball into the center field gap to score Bowers and Walls for a 3-0 lead.
“It was huge to get on their starting pitcher when she wasn’t completely on, it was just huge,” Mansuy said. “We have a saying, that a pitcher can get into their rhythm later on in the game. So we had to get to her early and it gave us a ton of confidence for the day.”
The Cougars answered back in the bottom of the first inning, as Gracey Gallagher and Larsen put two runners on with a double followed by a single. Sammie Luckie put the ball into play on the left side of the infield, and a throwing error allowed Gallagher to score. Some heads-up fielding saved a run for the Indians on the next play, with Giarritta throwing home on a Natalie Nash infield play that nabbed pinch runner Alana Isais at the plate.
The high-powered Del Campo offense continued to chip away at the Napa lead in the bottom of the second inning, however, as Casey Robinson took advantage of a fielding error in the outfield to score from first base to make it 3-2. The Cougars briefly took the lead in the third inning, 4-3, on back-to-back doubles by Luckie and Nash.
The Indians took back control in the fourth inning, starting a rally with one out. Lehman got Napa going, hitting a double into the gap in right center field. She didn’t have to wait long to come home, as Guzman hit a triple to right field. Peyton Mott hit a hard ground ball up the middle to score Guzman for a 5-4 lead. Giarritta followed with a single down the right field line, which allowed Mott to increase the Napa lead to 7-4.
The Indians jumped out to their largest lead of the afternoon in the top of the fifth inning, when Lehman reached on an error and Guzman added a single. Bowers hit a double to center field to score both Lehman and Guzman and make it 9-4.
The nine runs scored by the Indians (21-8-1) tied a season high given up by Del Campo. The Cougars have been one of the top teams in California and the nation this season, with Del Campo ranked by Maxpreps.com as the 68th-best team in the country.
“It was an amazing victory today, it just feels amazing.” Mansuy said, “Though take nothing away from Del Campo. They were an amazing team.”
Napa’s large lead was short-lived, as the Cougars added two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to make it 9-6.
Mansuy wasn’t too worried.
“They support one another and they are just a good mix,” she said of her players. “They are able to stop the bleeding, because they have each other’s back.”
The true suspense started in the final frame, with the Indians just three outs away from the section title. Baker got No. 9 hitter Robinson to a count of two strikes before the senior took a pitch over the left field wall.
“For the whole playoffs we have just been a really calm team,” Lehman said. “If we make a mistake we can make it up on the next play. That is why when they hit the home run in the seventh inning, we were like ‘We can do this,’ and ‘We can keep pushing.’”
But the lead was down to just two runs with zero outs. Up next was speedy leadoff batter Virgie Robello. The senior reached on a throwing error and advanced to second base, still with no outs. Baker got her first out of the inning by forcing Gallagher to ground out, but she still had to get through the heart of the Del Campo lineup to claim the title.
Larsen knocked in Robello with a well-hit ball to the right side. Napa picked up its second out of the inning with a fielder’s choice that got Larsen at second base.
Baker didn’t seem rattled, even with the winning run at the plate. She threw five pitches to Rylee Owen before striking out the senior to clinch the championship.
“The girls are talented, but they also played so well as a team,” Mansuy said. “It is unusual to find that kind of cohesiveness with a team, but we have been saying all year that talent will only get you so far. Playing for your teammates and having each other’s back while being a unit will win you the big games.”
With 11 members being freshmen or sophomores, the Indians have a prime opportunity to start next season as one of the top teams in the section.