It can be tempting for a high school softball team to give up after spotting its opponent nine runs in the top of the first inning, but not Justin-Siena.

In their North Coast Section Division 4 playoff opener against visiting No. 8 seed Saint Mary’s on Tuesday, the No. 9 Braves made a game of it before falling 19-8 in six innings.

A leadoff home run by senior Clare Garcia followed by a single from Clare Halsey (1 for 3) and a two-run shot by Eleanor Meyers in the fifth cut the Panthers’ lead to 15-8. But Saint Mary’s responded with a four-run sixth capped by a two-run homer from senior Caili Anderson – her second of the game – to end the game by the 10-run mercy rule.

Despite a winless Vine Valley Athletic League campaign, Justin-Siena (10-14) had qualified for the playoffs because it had gone 9-1 in the preseason against nonleague teams in the same or higher division. Two of those were big comeback wins over Division 3 Drake.

So when Saint Mary’s went up 12-0 after two innings, the Braves plugged away. They scored three in the third when Meyers (2 for 3) led off with a single, Michelle Lozano was hit by a pitch, Jocelyn Stojak (2 for 4) singled and Garcia (2 for 3) doubled.

“We played Sir Francis Drake and were down (9-3 after two innings) and ended up beating them (18-11), so I thought that was going to happen today, too,” said Melissa Lozano, who played second base. “But we didn’t really get the bat on the ball too often.”

The fourth saw the Panthers go up 14-3. The Braves answered with two more runs on singles by Melissa Lozano (1 for 3, run), Michelle Lozano (1 for 2, two runs), Paige Horn (1 for 3) and Stojack to make it 14-5.

In the top of the fifth, starting pitcher Halsey got two outs before giving up one run on four straight walks, two on full counts.

But after the Braves’ home runs made it 15-8, and Garcia took over in the pitching circle, the Panthers got a double, a walk, an error that plated both runners, and Anderson’s game-ending dinger.

Michelle Lozano said the home runs by Garcia and Meyers “gave us faith to keep on going, and confidence. It was nice to see everyone get pumped up. It felt like that Drake game again, definitely déjà vu. I thought we could come back and do it again. But (the Panthers) are a good team. They deserved it.”

The Panthers’ nine-run first, which featured back-to-back home runs and five Justin-Siena errors, had pretty much taken the Braves out of it early.

“In the first inning, I don’t know, we weren’t really awake, I guess,” said Melissa Lozano, who played second base.

It was the last game for Garcia, Victoria Politz and the Lozano sisters after four varsity seasons and three playoff appearances apiece.

The Lozanos said they were grateful to go out with a postseason fight after having to miss last year’s playoffs due to players having to take AP exams.

“It felt pretty good to go to the playoffs in our senior year,” said Melissa Lozano, who plans to play with her sister for Solano Community College next year.

She was asked what advice she would give to the 10 teammates expected to return next year.

“I would say ‘Just have fun with it and really just grind it out and try your best, because it goes by so fast.’”

Saint Mary’s (13-10) will visit No. 1 seed Cloverdale (23-0) in the quarterfinals.

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.