STOCKTON – The difference between having the season come to an end and reaching the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV softball championship for the third year in a row, came down to one swing of the bat.
The Calaveras High School softball team was down to its final out and trailed No. 5 Liberty Ranch 10-9 in the bottom of the seventh inning. With the bases loaded, the tying run was standing on third and the winning run at second. Sophomore Angelina DeLeon stood in the batter's box and wanted to keep Calaveras’ season alive.
DeLeon had already been the hero once, as she tied the game 7-7 in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out, two-run home run. Now, she was asked to once again come through in the clutch.
DeLeon smacked a single into left-center to bring home not only the tying run, but also the winning run. DeLeon’s walk-off hit gave No. 2 Calaveras an 11-10 come-from-behind victory over Liberty Ranch Thursday night at Arnaiz Softball Complex. The win allows Calaveras to play for a section championship Friday against Ripon.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” DeLeon said of her game-winning hit. “I wanted our seniors to play another game. It was exciting to get that hit.”
After junior MacKenna Steele came around from second to score the winning run, the Calaveras players poured out of the dugout and celebrated on the field. It’s the third time in as many years that they will get the opportunity to bring home a blue section championship banner.
“It feels awesome to be going back to the section championship game for the third year in a row,” senior Alexis Dawe said. “I want to end my high school career with a win and that’s what I’m going for tomorrow.”
Although the day ended in jubilation, there was not much for Calaveras to celebrate the vast majority of the afternoon. The reason why a victory over Liberty Ranch was necessary to keep the season alive, was because Calaveras was trounced 16-6 in five innings by No. 1 Ripon earlier in the day.
All year, Calaveras has had strong pitching and quality defense and neither of those were on display against Ripon. After taking a 1-0 lead with an RBI double off the bat of senior Alanda Cardon in the top of the first, Calaveras gave up six runs in the bottom of the frame. Ripon would go on to score twice in the second and third and then three times in the fourth and fifth.
Calaveras’ pitching, which didn’t allow a run in Wednesday’s 7-0 win over Casa Roble, gave up 16 runs on 13 hits, which includes three home runs. There were also six walks. Senior Bri Head started the game and gave up 10 runs in only 2.1 innings of work.
“I feel like my arm was fatigued and I didn’t know how to pick myself up and fix my mistakes,” Head said.
Defensively, Calaveras committed four errors, so only nine of the 16 runs were earned.
“We just didn’t pitch well and play defense well,” Calaveras head coach Mike Koepp said about the loss to Ripon. “We fought, but we just didn't get timely hits as it went along. It was just not our game.”
At the plate, Head went 3 for 3; Cardon went 2 for 3 with a double, one RBI, a run scored and stole a base; freshman Madison Clark went 2 for 3 with a triple and two runs scored; DeLeon went 2 for 3; Steele went 1 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored; Jordyn Okumura went 1 for 3 with an RBI; junior Courtney Batterton had an RBI double; Keelie Koepp had an RBI; and Eve Stockdale scored twice.
With the 10-run loss to Ripon, Calaveras was forced to play Liberty Ranch, who held on for a 6-5 win over No. 3 Casa Roble. With Head back in the circle, the Hawks scored first to take an early 1-0 lead. Calaveras took out some of its frustration on the Liberty Ranch pitchers, as it scored five times in the bottom of the first.
Calaveras’ scoring outburst began with a one-out single by Clark, who was later knocked in with a deep shot off the center field wall by Cardon. Koepp walked and Steele reached with a bunt to load the bases. Head singled in Cardon and Koepp and Steele came around to score as she caught the Liberty Ranch defense not paying attention after the Head single. Stockdale, who ran for Head, eventually scored on a passed ball and Calaveras ended the first inning up 5-1.
Head cruised through the second and third, but things started to unravel in the top of the fourth. Head gave up four runs in the inning, with the big hit being a three-run home run to tie the game 5-5. In the top of the fifth, Liberty Ranch again struck with the long ball, as two more runs were added with a two-run home run over the left field wall. The second home run of the game came with two outs in the inning.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t think that our season was over,” Head said about giving up the home run which gave the Hawks a 7-5 lead. “I think all of the seniors had that thought. But every time they went back ahead, we kept thinking that this isn’t going to be our last game and I’m really glad that it’s not.”
Calaveras was running out of outs. In the bottom of the sixth and the game still 7-5 in favor of Liberty Ranch, a rally was needed. With one away, Steele walked. Head struck out and it was up to DeLeon to keep the inning alive. For the second day in a row, DeLeon blasted a two-run home run, this time it tied the game 7-7.
“I just wanted to go up there with a clear mind, pick my pitch and hit the ball,” DeLeon said.
The blast energized the entire Calaveras dugout, but the good feelings, nor head coach Mike Koepp, would last much longer. In the top of the seventh, after Head retired the first batter, Liberty Ranch got back-to-back singles. Head recorded another out and was close to getting out of the jam.
As the strike zone got a little tighter, Mike Koepp went out to talk with his infield and hoped to ask the umpire a question regarding the changing zone. Koepp, who stayed calm in his questioning of the zone, was eventually ejected from the game, which confused and angered the Calaveras faithful. Bench coach Rob Wyllie coached the remainder of the contest.
“Maybe I just need to keep my mouth shut sometimes,” said Koepp, who as a result of being ejected will be unable to coach the first game Friday against Ripon, but can return to the dugout should Calaveras force another game. “I don’t feel like I said anything. I was just trying to figure out where we were missing pitches. I wasn’t questioning balls and strikes; I was just asking a simple question. It’s unfortunate because you never want a game to be remembered because of that and I don’t want that to take away from what the game was.”
After Koepp was ejected, Head gave up a triple down the right field line which scored two runners. One more run was scored and Calaveras trailed 10-7 with only three outs remaining.
The seventh inning began with a walk from Okumura. Dawe followed with a single and Clark laid down a perfect bunt to load the bases with no outs. Cardon walked to bring in Okumura and Calaveras trailed 10-8. Keelie Koepp smacked a shot to deep center, which was caught at the wall. Dawe scored on Koepp’s sacrifice fly and Calaveras was only down by one run with just one away. Steele walked to load the bases and Head grounded to the pitcher, who went home for the force out.
With two outs and the bases loaded, the season rested on the shoulders of DeLeon. The moment wasn’t too big as she sent her teammates and the rest of the Calaveras fans home happy with her walk-off hit, which was her fourth RBI of the game.
“She’s a very talented player,” Mike Koepp said of DeLeon. “We are lucky to have her and I guarantee she’s the best seven-hole hitter, maybe in the state of California. She stretches that lineup out for us and we are really comfortable knowing that she’s going to put some good swings on balls. She could be a three-hole hitter for lots of teams. She had two really nice and clutch swings today.”
DeLeon went 2 for 3 with a home run and four RBIs; Clark went 2 for 4 with a run scored; Steele went 1 for 1 with three walks and three runs scored; Dawe had a single and scored a run; Cardon went 1 for 3 with a double, had two RBIs, scored twice and walked; Head had two RBIs; Okumura scored once; Koepp had an RBI and scored a run; and Stockdale scored once.
For the third year in a row, Calaveras will need to win twice on the final day of the year to capture a section championship. The last two tries were unsuccessful, as Calaveras lost to Sierra both times. Calaveras must defeat Ripon twice and Dawe isn’t letting Thursday’s 16-6 loss carry over into Friday’s game.
“We just want to come out tomorrow fresh and not worry about what happened today against them,” she said.
The first game will begin at 5 p.m., at Arnaiz Softball Complex. Should Calaveras win, the two teams would play once more with the division IV title up for grabs.
“We really want to get redemption and I definitely have something to prove,” Head said.