The wait – and the ache – is over.
After coming agonizingly close in recent seasons, the Escalon varsity softball girls finally won it all; claiming the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 championship with a perfect 4-0 run through the postseason. It was the first time in seven years that the girls have taken the blue banner and they wrapped it up this past week with a win over Ripon and a final victory over Mariposa County to earn the title.
The postseason for the varsity girls started with a 15-0 shutout over Orestimba on May 17 in Escalon, following that up with a 4-0 win over Bear River at the Arnaiz Softball Complex in Stockton on Saturday, May 20.
In action at Arnaiz on Tuesday, May 23, top seeded Escalon then faced off with Trans-Valley League rival Ripon, the number two seed, a team they had twice beaten in league play. One of those was a come-from-behind win, getting a walk off victory at home.
This time, said head coach Art Brooks, the formula was virtually the same – get the lead, fall behind, catch up, win the game with a walk off.
It was also the same hitter – freshman Sage Davis – who provided the firepower, driving in the winning run in the Lady Cougars’ final at bat.
“It was a 7-6 win, both teams came in at 2-0 so it was a pretty important game,” noted Brooks of the contest with the Lady Indians.
The winner would automatically advance to the final round, while the loser would have to face Mariposa in a second game on Tuesday in hopes of qualifying for Wednesday’s finale.
Starting pitcher Chardae Hoskins battled, allowing five hits, including a grand slam. Molly Brown came on in relief and righted the ship, shutting down Ripon over the last couple of innings.
Escalon did get a run in the first, Brown rapping out a double to score Hoskins, who had gotten on base with a walk. In the second inning, Hannah Boyd singled and, a couple of batters later, Hailie Webster drove her in.
“They came back with four runs in the third on the grand slam,” Brooks said of resilient Ripon. “They scored one more in the fifth and one in the sixth.”
Up early, the Lady Cougars found themselves down late, but did not let that stop them from getting yet another rally going.
“We got one back in the fifth, consecutive singles from Chardae, Molly and Arabella Strach,” noted Brooks. “Then we scored three in the sixth to tie it.”
An error, a fielder’s choice, followed by hits from Mackenzie Duval, Ashley Duval and Hoskins got the game tied up at 6-6.
“In the seventh, Molly Brown shut them down,” Brooks said.
For Escalon, that set the stage for the final at bat dramatics, tied up headed to the bottom of the seventh inning.
“Hannah Boyd singled, then Haley Boyd moved her over with a beautiful bunt, nobody covered third so Hannah was on third base,” Brooks said.
After an out, freshman Davis – who had entered the game in a defensive switch when Brown left first base to pitch – came up to the plate to be the hero.
“It was like groundhog day,” admitted Brooks, with the scenario eerily similar to a league game when Davis drove in the winning run in a come-from-behind Escalon victory.
“She had about an eight pitch at-bat, found one she could handle and hit a sharp single, came up with the game-winning RBI,” Brooks said. “The girls just had so much heart, they never got down and it seems like we had a new hero every game.”
Brown was the winning pitcher and went 4-for-4 on the day with a run batted in. Hoskins was 2-for-3 with two RBI; Strach was 2-for-4 with an RBI. Haley Boyd was 2-for-4 with a double and Mackenzie Duval had two hits and a run batted in. Contributing hits were Ashley Duval, Hannah Boyd, Webster and Davis.
With the thrilling 7-6 win, Escalon got the automatic berth to the championship round. Ripon, meanwhile, had to get back on the field shortly after losing to Escalon, playing Mariposa County, with the winner moving on to face off with the Lady Cougars. Taking the 1-0 win was third seeded Mariposa County; that gave Ripon its second loss of the playoffs and they were out. Mariposa County came in with one loss to the final round, Escalon a perfect 3-0 and that set up the Wednesday showdown. If Mariposa County had won the first game, the teams would have had to play a second contest to decide the title. But Escalon didn’t let it get that far, winning by a 5-2 final to clinch the championship.
It was a two-run homer over the left center field fence – more than 200 feet from home plate – that put the cap on the 5-2 victory for the varsity softball girls.
The fifth inning blast came off the bat of freshman catcher Hannah Boyd. Strach, who had just rapped an RBI double to give Escalon a 3-2 lead, came in to score ahead of Boyd, who was mobbed at the plate by her teammates.
The 5 p.m. Wednesday game at Arnaiz Softball Complex saw Escalon jump out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second but Mariposa answered back with two runs of their own in the top of the third to knot it at 2-2.
Each team managed to get a few more base runners on but neither could break through until Escalon’s game-clinching fifth inning rally.
After Hoskins set down the side in order on three consecutive strikeouts in the top of the fifth, the varsity girls came alive offensively.
Hoskins led things off with a single up the middle. Brown stroked a solid shot to right but the fielder was able to get a good jump and make the catch. Strach then ripped the RBI double and Hannah Boyd followed with the home run.
Older sister Haley Boyd then turned in a pair of sparkling catches from her right field position in the top of the sixth to squash the Mariposa rally attempt, charging in to catch a ball that seemed destined to fall in over second base, then ranging far to her right to chase down a deep fly ball to right center field.
Though they had a runner thrown out at the plate on a suicide squeeze bunt play in the bottom of the sixth trying to get one more insurance run, the Lady Cougars made the three-run lead stand. In the top of the seventh, Hoskins struck out the first batter, Brown stabbed a line drive at first base for the second out and a final strikeout from Hoskins started the celebration.
“It was a great win,” said Brooks, hoisting the blue banner to cheers and applause from his team. “It was a long season but they came together as a team, just absolutely 100 percent proud of them.”
The Lady Cougars claimed both the Trans-Valley League title, going 12-0, and the Section crown, finishing their season at 23-4 overall. It was the first time since 2010 the girls were TVL champions, then went on to win the D5 crown as well.
“It felt amazing,” said Hoskins after taking time to pose for championship photos with her teammates on Wednesday, pointing to the Tuesday win over Ripon as a turning point. “We just didn’t give up.”
For freshman catcher Boyd, belting the two-run homer isn’t something she’ll forget anytime soon.
“It felt good to hit one out during playoffs,” she admitted. “I knew right when I hit it.”
The ball sailed over the left-centerfield fence, providing the final margin of victory and also put a smile on the face of senior Haley Boyd, Hannah’s older sister.
“I was proud of Hannah stepping up, that was a proud big sister moment,” she said.
Twin sisters Ashley and Mackenzie Duval capped their senior off with a title and agreed that the team had a ‘never say die’ attitude, battling until the final out, every game.
“Girl power,” added head coach Brooks, who also thanked assistant coaches, his daughter Caitlin Brooks and Carlos Lorigo, for their efforts this season.
It was Caitlin who helped bring the Lady Cougars their last Section crown, hitting a walk off three-run bottom of the ninth inning homer against Hughson in the championship game in May, 2010. Now, she has a title in hand as a coach as well.
“It was a long season but we talked at the start about three things, they needed to come together as a team, win the TVL and win the Section,” summarized Brooks. “They checked everything off the list. It was incredible, it was a lot of fun, the girls worked hard, they had good chemistry and we kept pushing them all season … we took care of all the goals that we had.”