Kiara Azevedo did a lap around the pitcher’s circle to gather herself.
The Los Banos junior was understandably upset after a 3-2 pitch on the corner didn’t go her way, walking in a run with two outs in the fifth inning. After a little staring into the ever-darkening heavens and a few deep breaths, Azevedo recomposed and induced a soft fly ball to right to escape the jam.
The run would prove the only blemish on the southpaw’s afternoon. Azevedo scattered three hits and struck out five to help lead the ninth-seeded Tigers to a 4-1 victory over No. 8 Hughson in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs on Tuesday.
The victory earns LB a long trip to No. 1 Casa Roble on Thursday. The two teams are very familiar with each other, with the Rams (19-6) handing the Tigers (16-10) playoff losses each of the last two years.
“I was a little nervous,” Azevedo said. “We haven’t had our best season, but I came in confident. I practiced a lot yesterday on pitching, to get back to where I was for the Pacheco game. So I felt pretty good about today.
“It’s always hard to score first and that’s something we have a problem with. It was really good we did that (today), because I got to settle down and do my job in the circle.”
Los Banos coach Mike Greenwood called it the team’s most complete performance of the season. After a slow start, he believes his team is peaking at the right time.
It’s hard to argue with Tuesday’s evidence as the Tigers got up early and never allowed Hughson back into the game.
Emily Lonetree got things going, singling in Haley Ballez in the top of the first inning to put LB in front right away. Cassandra Augustine expanded that lead the next time up, drilling a two-run home run to dead center in the second inning to put Los Banos up 3-0.
“My freshman stepping up and drilling the first pitch she sees,” Greenwood said. “ I brought her up during spring break and the first home game she hit a home run. She went into a little slump against Pacheco, but she bounced back today and crushes that one.”
Huskies (15-6) starting pitcher Megan Shuayto surrendered five hits in the first two innings, but settled in after that, yielding just two the rest of the way. That gave Hughson the opportunity to chip away at the lead.
Azevedo overcame a couple errors to sidestep trouble in the second and third innings. The Huskies finally broke through in the fifth. A hit batter, a high chopper over first and an infield single loaded the bases with two outs and Hughson’s top hitter, Megan Lutz coming to the plate. Azevedo fell behind 3-0, but battled back to full with two quick strikes. She drilled Lonetree’s target on the pay-off pitch, but didn’t get the call as Lutz forced a run in.
The junior called upon her extensive playoff experience and shook off her frustration to get the next batter and escape the jam. Hughson only got one runner on the rest of the way.
“Kiki was huge today,” Greenwood said. “I don’t know how many runners they left in the game, but she dug deep anytime they got on. She was hitting her outside corner all day, so we had to keep painting it. She did what she had to do for us to win.
“We know Casa Roble is a real challenge. They’ve beaten us in the playoffs the last two years, but we’re playing well and we’ll be ready.”