With the final game of the season over a week in the rearview mirror now, we take a look back at the Central Coast Section softball playoffs, and the path that each team took to the title, while highlighting some great individual performances and thrilling games.
Seeding never means anything in this division, and that was never more true than this year, as Mitty snagged the eight seed and stormed to the section title. The Monarchs blanked WCAL rival Saint Francis in the championship game, 6-0, after routing Carlmont, 12-3, in the semifinals. In fact, Mitty’s biggest test came in the quarterfinals against top seed Presentation.
Kaia McCaul’s two-run, two-out double in the bottom of the fourth for Presentation tied things at three in the quarterfinal game, at least until Mitty freshman Elon Butler singled with two outs to score a pair of runs and give the Monarchs a 5-3 lead. Presentation cut into the lead with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, on another run-scoring double from McCaul, but the Panthers went down in order in the bottom of the seventh to seal the 5-4 Mitty victory.
After Mitty routed Carlmont in the semifinals, it was time for a rematch with a Lancers’ squad which had just beaten the Monarchs, 14-4, in the WCAL semifinals. This time, Mitty scored in four different innings to cruise to the section title, in Joe Gron’s final game at the helm of the Monarchs’ program.
Savanna Smith tossed a three-hit shutout for the Monarchs in the championship game, and Butler again made an impact in her first year, capping the win with a two-run home run.
There were, of course, some standout performances in the earlier rounds as well. Hannah Damore, Hailey Prahm and Jessica Oakland all homered for Saint Francis during the playoffs, and Notre Dame-Salinas got a tremendous two-game stretch from senior Meghan Amaral, who drove in six runs for the Spirits, including all four during a 4-2 win over Silver Creek. Ashley Trierweiler also capped her career at Carlmont in fashion, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored, two stolen bases and two RBIs during a 5-3 quarterfinal win over Mountain View.
Early in the playoffs, it appeared this bracket would belong to top seed Watsonville, especially as UNLV-bound senior pitcher Jessica Rodriguez allowed no hits and notched 16 strikeouts in back-to-back shutout wins over Lincoln and Piedmont Hills to open the post-season.
Meanwhile, Aragon steadily marched towards the title game, dispatching Alvarez, Gilroy and then San Mateo to reach the final. Once there, senior Holly Fletcher shut down the ‘Catz and the offense handed her plenty of run support during a 6-1 championship game victory. Fletcher struck out 11 and scattered four hits, finishing her year with 202 strikeouts in the circle. Meanwhile, the two heralded Aragon freshmen continued to get it done at the plate.
PAL-Bay Freshman of the Year Olivia DiNardo had two more hits in the title game, giving her seven in the playoffs, while Megan Grant – who homered in the semifinal win over San Mateo – drove in another run, giving her 51 RBIs for the year.
San Benito junior Drew Barragan put on a tremendous show in these playoffs, racking up seven hits, including three home runs and two doubles, plus seven RBIs in the Balers’ three games, while Baler senior Dominique Monteon had nine hits and eight RBIs, including a three-run homer against Watsonville, to become another offensive star of the playoffs. Branham junior Ashley Donaldson also had one of the top single-game performances in the bracket, going 3-for-3 with a triple and a home run, driving in two runs and scoring twice during a first-round 5-3 win over Fremont.
The closest game in this bracket was Watsonville’s 5-4 semifinal win over San Benito, a game in which freshman Rylee Gomez drove in Juliana Wilson with her walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh, after Anastacia Alba had driven in all four runs earlier in the game for the Wildcatz, on a three-run home run and a bases-loaded walk.
Fifth-seeded Pioneer had to survive a slugfest with Notre Dame-Belmont in the first round, and then a defensive battle with Ann Sobrato in the quarterfinals, but once the Mustangs defeated top seed Valley Christian in the semifinals, there was no stopping them, as they rolled past Hillsdale for a 5-0 victory in the championship game.
It’s hard to overstate the performance of Pioneer sophomore pitcher Mari Bajan in the title game, facing a Hillsdale team which had scored 38 runs in the previous three rounds of the playoffs, winning all of them by mercy rule. In the final, however, the Fighting Knights had no answer for Bajan, who allowed just two hits, both singles, and racked up 12 strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Lizzy Smith and Breanna Ryan each had a pair of RBIs for Pioneer, which scored all five of its runs in the top of the sixth inning.
The Mustangs’ title run was nearly derailed in the quarterfinals, when Sobrato pitcher Julie Martin kept Pioneer at bay offensively. But a single up the middle by Sydney Heming in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Sydney Solis for the walk-off victory, in what would turn out to be a signature moment during the run to the championship.
Sophomore Mika Chong had one of Hillsdale’s two hits in the championship game, capping a playoff run which saw Chong collect eight hits and nine RBIs.
One of the greatest careers in the section came to a close in these playoffs, but Valley Christian catcher Kacey Zobac did not go quietly. Zobac had seven hits in the Warriors’ first two playoff games, with six of them going for extra bases – including two home runs – and drove in eight runs in the first two games. She also doubled in a run during the loss to Pioneer, when she was also walked twice.