The bases were loaded with two outs and the count was full and the runners were off with the pitch.
The crowd was going crazy at James Logan High’s diamond on Wednesday evening, but Logan’s ace pitcher, Raeann “Ray-Ray” Garza, kept her head in a 12-pitch duel with California High’s Kwyn Cooper with the game and a trip for the North Coast Section Division I softball final on the line.
After fouling off three pitches in this situation, Cooper finally struck out, chasing a riser Garza threw that started out about chest high but wound up about neck high.
With that, the Logan High Colts escaped with a 3-1 victory that sent them into the final and a showdown with 26-0 No. 1-seed Amador Valley High on Friday at St. Mary’s College in Moraga.
“At first I was nervous, but then I realized it was better to keep it off the plate than let her hit it somewhere to let in the winning run,” Garza said. “She went for it and it worked.”
The Colts, the No. 2 seed, ran their season record to 23-1, their lone loss coming 2-0 to Amador Valley in March. And Garza ran her record to 20-1 and lowered her ERA to 1.01. But having said all that, it was far from easy.
Logan had rallied from down 1-0 entering the sixth inning against the Grizzlies’ ace, Lindsey Chalmers. But Cal battled back in the bottom of the seventh. In the semifinals and finals at NCS, a coin flip decides which team bats last.
With one out, Chalmers worked a 3-2 walk. Then pinch hitter Nikki Bridges singled to left. After a strikeout put the Grizzlies down to their last out, leadoff hitter Jessica Catson singled to right.
That loaded the bases, putting the tying run at second and the winning run at first.
“The inning started out with their six-through-eight hitters, and it wound up with their best hitter up there with the bases loaded,” said Logan High coach Teri Johnson. “If she (Cooper) could put the bat on the ball, they could tie it or win it. It was just a pitcher-batter duel, and Ray-Ray came out on top.”
Garza struck out nine, walked two, allowed six hits but no earned runs in the seven innings.
While Garza kept her cool at the end, she acknowledged she had a little anxiety when the Colts went to their next-to-last at-bat trailing 1-0.
“I was definitely nervous,” Garza said, “but I had faith we would just keep trying until we broke through and were successful.”
The pitcher also added, “We decided to shorten our swings because she (the Grizzlies’ Chalmers) was quick, and we knew she was throwing first-pitch strikes. So we were swinging at them.”
In the sixth, pinch hitter Alexis Mattos got a two-run rally started, jumping on the first pitch for a ringing double down the left-field line.
The Logan backers were already loud with their “Thundersticks” and became almost deafening at that point. A sacrifice bunt by Kimberly Goulart sent Mattos to third. She came home to tie the game on Marissa Perez’s sharp single to right.
Later with two outs, Alexis Martinez blooped a single to shallow right center and Jazmine “Jazzy” Reed went from first to third on the play. Catcher Caley Bonansea capped the rally with a sharp RBI single to right.
In the seventh, Logan scored an important insurance run on Mattos’ second hit that scored Melina Rodriguez, who had singled. And error by second baseman Sarita Leon aided the rally.
Grizzlies center fielder Joelle Williams prevented more damage after fielding Mattos’ single. Williams’ strong throw home nabbed Clarissa Blaquera trying to score from second.
Johnson said of sub Mattos, who went 2-for-2: “We knew she could hit, and we were just ready for her to hit then, and it was perfect timing.”
Cal took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on an unearned run featuring two hits and an error.
“Amador’s going to be a tough one for us,” Johnson said. “(Pitcher Johanna Grauer) is the real deal. We’re just going to have to shorten up our swings. It’s going to be a one-run game.”