Two Big Game wins decided by one run have helped the Napa High softball team climb back into the Vine Valley Athletic League race.
After edging first-place Vintage 5-4 at home Thursday, the Grizzlies (12-7, 7-3 VVAL) had a half-game lead over the Crushers (11-3, 6-3 VVAL) and American Canyon (10-8-1, 6-3 VVAL).
“The Big Game is always a great game no matter what the records are, who’s pitching, or where we are playing,” said Napa head coach Ron Walston. “It felt good to win. We need (to win) every game from here on out.”
Caity Newburn led the Grizzlies with a pair of solo blasts well over the right-centerfield wall. The freshman’s first round-tripper helped stake Napa to a 2-0 lead in the first inning after Grace Guzman had scored on Haylee Giarritta’s sacrifice bunt following Guzman’s double to left.
Vintage scratched out a run in the top of the second when Morgan Groves scored on a throwing error by Napa.
But the Grizzlies extended their lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth, with Newburn again setting the tone with a leadoff home run.
“I’m always looking for a pitch that I like, something over the plate that I think I can hit hard,” Newburn said.
Abby Arata drove in Napa’s fourth run, with a single that brought home pinch runner Mila Valentine.
Vintage pitcher Shelby Morse retired the next two batters with the bases loaded to keep the Crushers in the game.
Getting out of the inning after only giving up two runs seemed to fire up Vintage. The Crushers tied the game, 4-4, with three runs in the top of the fifth.
Sarah Husted beat out a bunt and moved to third base on Jordan Allen’s double off the right-field wall. Morse singled through the infield, scoring Husted. With no outs and the tying runs at second and third, Brandt hit a routine grounder to third and the throw to first was wild, allowing Allen and Morse to score and tie the game.
But Napa pitcher Kimmie Walston bore down and retire the next three Vintage hitters to preserve the tie.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Grizzlies pushed across what turned out to be the game-winner. With Raimy Gamsby in the circle in relief of Morse, Lindsey Lehman beat out a dribbler and was replaced by pinch runner Cali Olmstead. Jenna Baker sacrificed Olmstead to second. After Olmstead moved up to third on passed ball, Jordan Blackmon singled to left on 3-2 pitch to bring in Olmstead for the 5-4 lead.
Walston bore down in the top of the seventh, retiring Vintage in order to earn the win after a highly entertaining and competitive contest.
“Kimmie was mixing it up and keeping the ball down,” Coach Walston said of his daughter. “Taylor Brandt had a couple of doubles off her, but she’s a great hitter and a tough out.”
“Kimmie pitched great today,” agreed Newburn, Napa’s catcher. “She was really hitting her spots.”
Vintage fell to the Grizzlies 8-7 earlier in the month, when Baker pitched a complete game for the win.
“We actually did a better job on defense today,” observed Crushers head coach Robert Poppe. “I just need to do a better job coaching and have them ready to play. We’re fine. The kids are great. It’s just another game on the schedule, and I expect them to rebound very well.”
Brandt, the hitting star for Vintage on the day with two extra base hits, said she wasn’t concerned about the tough Big Game loss.
“We’re fine. We came out and we did the best we could do,” she said. “I was really proud of us, the way we were able to come back in the sixth inning. Props to them. Today they were the better team.”
Walston allowed one earned run on eight hits, one walk and two strikeouts. Gamsby took the loss in relief for Vintage, giving up an earned run on three hits and no walks while striking out one. Morse allowed three earned runs on five hits, two walks and four strikeouts.
Along with Newburn’s two home runs and two RBIs for the Grizzlies, Guzman had a double, single and three stolen bases. Also getting singles for Napa were Baker, Blackmon, Arata and Lehman.
For Vintage, Brandt had two doubles, Allen had a double, Morse had a single and an RBI, and Morgan Groves, Ally Warren, Camila Barboza and Husted each had a single.
The Crushers traveled to Tracy on Friday for the NorCal Classic, opening against Dos Palos at 11 a.m. The tournament wraps up Saturday. Napa doesn’t play again until next Thursday, May 2, when it hosts Sonoma Valley and looks to avenge a 6-5 road loss to the Dragons.