Timely hitting and timely pitching were the order of the day for the eighth-seeded Napa High softball team as it roared past No. 9 Bear Creek of Stockton, 8-3, in a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff opener at home Tuesday.
Napa pitcher Jenna Baker was lights out late in the game, retiring nine out of the last 10 batters she faced to preserve the win and improve her team’s record to 18-8.
“It took Jenna a little while to get going, probably some nerves, but she definitely did settle down and made some great pitches, especially in the late innings,” said Napa head coach Ron Walston.
Each team pushed across a run in the first inning, Napa on an RBI groundout by Peyton Mott that scored the speedy Grace Guzman from third base.
In the second inning, Napa took a 2-1 lead. Kimmie Walston got on base when was hit in the back by a fastball with an audible thump that could be heard in the parking lot. After Haylee Giarritta walked, Guzman hammered a very loud foul ball that sailed just outside the right-field foul pole, thanks to the westerly breeze. On the next pitch, the sophomore managed an infield single that allowed Walston to score after a bad throw by the Bruins.
The third inning was the only shaky time for Baker, as Bear Creek’s top hitter, Logan Asia, crushed a pitch high over the fence in right-center field for a two-run jack that gave the visitors a 3-2 lead.
“We knew their three, four and five hitters were strong, especially Asia. You can’t leave anything out over the plate for her, as she showed,” observed Coach Walston. “We made some adjustments on her in the later innings that helped us out. She’s the one that gets their offense rolling, so keeping her off the bases was huge.”
In the fourth inning, a gritty Napa squad would grab the lead back for good when Mott sent a seeing-eye, two-out, two-run single back up the middle to score Abby Arata and Guzman.
“I was a little nervous in that situation,” said Mott, “but I actually think I do a little better with the pressure. It makes me focus more and really see the pitch. I was trying to hit it up the middle to at least get one run in.”
Even though Napa was up by a run, 4-3, Coach Walston wasn’t celebrating just yet.
“I didn’t want to go into that seventh inning with just a one-run lead,” he said. “One little mistake and they’re right back in it.”
He needn’t have worried. In the sixth, Napa brought four runners across the plate to put the game away.
Giarritta led off with a ringing double to the wall in left center. Arata singled to bring in Giarritta with an insurance run, but Napa was far from through. Guzman and Mott received intentional walks to load the bases, Arata scored on a wild pitch, and Lindsey Lehman loaded the bases again with another walk. Walston walked to score Guzman, Bri Bowers knocked in Mott with an infield single, and Napa had an 8-3 lead.
Baker then slammed the door on the Bear Creek hitters, cruising over the last three innings to seal the victory.
“Jenna is so good,” Mott said. “She’s one of the best pitchers I’ve ever played with. I have full confidence in her.”
Next up for Napa is Wednesday’s playoff rematch at Del Campo of Fair Oaks. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Last year, Napa was seeded No. 8 when it swept then-No. 3 seed Del Campo twice in the playoffs, 5-4 and 9-8, at the end of its section-championship run. Del Campo is seeded No. 1 this year and comes into Wednesday’s game with an impressive 20-2 record after opening with an 8-4 win over No. 16 Wood on Monday.
“Del Campo is strong, top to bottom,” Coach Walston pointed out. “We have to play our A game, that’s for sure. But when we play like that, I’ll put my team up against anybody. That experience last year was huge for our players. They know what it takes to get there and they know what it takes to finish it.”
Mott was also looking forward to the rematch.
“I’m very excited to face Del Campo again. I think they will be out to get us, but we will be ready for them,” she said. “We’re prepared and we’re in a good mode right now.”