STOCKTON — Los Banos and Pacheco High’s softball teams both dropped their first-round playoff games May 15 at Arnaiz Softball Complex in Stockton, and while both the Tigers and Panthers weren’t happy to miss out on the double-elimination part of the bracket, both programs came away feeling they had successful seasons.
Pacheco lost 4-2 to Valley Oak League champion East Union, the consensus favorite in the tournament, while Los Banos went down 17-0 to eventual champion Oakdale, which also mercy-ruled its second-round opponent, Western Athletic Conference champion Ceres.
“Someone has to lose the last game, and you hate to lose. I mean, we’d like to have a better showing,” Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso said. “We can’t give up six runs in the first, then turn around and give up five in the second, and expect to win games.”
Oakdale led off with a Kindra Hackbarth walk and a Caylie O’Neal double, and the Mustangs were off and running, using four hits, an error, two walks and a hit batter to put six runs on the board. The second inning went just as well for Oakdale as they chased Los Banos starter Brianna Flores during a seven-hit streak.
Los Banos put Melanie Silva on second base after she was hit by a pitch and Ally Waltman walked, but she was picked off by a throw from catcher Maddi Hackbarth. The inning ended with Waltman on second base.
“I think they’re disappointed they didn’t get past the first round,” Caropreso said. “This senior group’s been here three years in a row, and we haven’t got past the first round, so that’s a little heartbroken, but like I told them, not too many people get to this point. You’ve got to keep your heads up. You got here for a reason.”
And the Tigers have every reason to believe they’ll be back for another shot next year, with a strong underclass coming back, including the entire infield of first baseman Kylee Cardoza (sophomore), second baseman Haley Quintana (sophomore), shortstop Waltman (freshman) and third baseman Breanna Cascia (junior). The Tigers will graduate starters Angela Rodriguez (a four-year starter, three at catcher), pitcher Taylor Harris and outfielders Nicole Marchese and Jenna Gilardi, along with first baseman Savannah Pena, who was a starter last year but had to sit out sue to back problems this spring.
On the main stadium field, Pacheco held a 2-0 lead over East Union after scoring one each in the first and third, both by leadoff hitter Arianna Barton. But the Lancers tied it in the fifth on a two-run single up the middle by Cherish Burks. East Union took the lead on a Jordan Vinson infield single that scored Burks. Vinson scored on a Delaney Pamplin double down the right field line.
Pacheco coach Charlie Pikas told his players that he made a mistake in that inning.
“If I make the right call and we intentionally walk Cherish, then the line drive that the No. 2 girl hits, Sammy (Jacquez) knocks down and flips it to second, we’re out of the inning,” Pikas said. “And that’s where I’m going to kick myself for a long time. It’s easier to second-guess after the fact, but I know what the right thing was in that situation and I didn’t do it.”
Pacheco wasn’t able to get anyone on base in the last two innings, and East Union moved on to the double-elimination portion of the tournament.
“I feel that we’re just as good as them,” Pikas said. “And I feel that the way we finish – you look at their overall season, they had a great season, but you look at how we finished, to finish up 8-2 coming in, and our only losses to a league champion that just won in the bottom of the seventh, and we lost a game to Atwater that was just kind of a relaxing game. But in games that mattered down the stretch, we were just as good as anyone here.”
Where Pacheco’s defense has struggled at times this season, it was instrumental in the Panthers keeping the lead as long as they did, with plays like third baseman Shyanne Vargas knocking down a hard-hit line drive that gave her a split-second to react, and recovering to make the throw to first in time for an out.
“Even their coach was saying between innings that momentum was on our side early, and when stuff’s going good, you make plays like that,” Pikas said. “And when they had one good inning, they had a couple of plays that we didn’t make the plays on.”
Like Los Banos, Pacheco will have a strong squad coming back, with only one starter graduating in Barton, but whoever fills that leadoff spot will have big shoes to fill after she batted .590 this season with 25 runs scored.
“She’s been the offensive heart and soul of this team for two or three years,” Pikas said. “But somebody’s going to have to step up for her, and these eight girls coming back are just going to have to keep working to get better, and hopefully we’ll find ourselves right back here on the right side of the score.”
With most of that defense coming back, the Panthers also return pitcher Gia Rodoni, who threw four one-hitters and two no-hitters down the final stretch after becoming eligible from her transfer from Central Catholic.