HANFORD — Like the rest of their season, the Bullpups battled until the final out.
Trailing by eight runs in the top of the seventh inning, Hanford refused to go quietly. The Bullpups scored four runs in a late rally, but ultimately fell 12-8 to Kingsburg in the CIF Central Section Division II championship.
“Just like the end here, they never gave up,” Hanford coach Donnie Fagundes said. “There’s a lot of games we came back and won in the last inning or two.”
Bullpups third baseman Mia Stewart, who received the Most Inspirational Player award after the game, started the seventh-inning rally with a one-out walk. Second baseman Lillianna Garcia singled and designated player Jenna Leavens’ walked to load the bases.
An error by Kingsburg second baseman Marissa Montelongo allowed two runs to score and then right fielder Hannah Costa, who was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a walk, hit a two-run single down the left-field line to cut the deficit to four.
“When we have a rally going, it just keeps on going and going,” Stewart said.
The game ended on Hanford center fielder Emily Juarez’s fly out to left field. It concluded her high school career, but not before she broke Hanford’s all-time hits record in the third inning with a single to right field.
She entered the game tied at 122 hits. The single was her only hit of the day, as she walked and flied out in her other three at-bats, but it was all Juarez needed to now sit atop the Hanford leaderboard with 123 hits.
“There’s nothing that I could prepare myself for this, just the feeling,” Juarez, who will continue her softball career at Cuesta College, said. “After hitting that ball I knew right away I was like, ‘I did that. I really did it.’”
An early drizzle turned into a steady rain as the game progressed and there were even talks about suspending the game in the fifth inning, but the umpires ruled the game was still playable.
The Hanford parents, students and the rest of the fans were in full force and cheering on their Bullpups despite the wet conditions.
“I thought it was excellent them coming out and supporting the girls even though they were talking about rain all day and the way the schedule moved around the last two days,” Fagundes said. “We had such support out there and I know the girls really appreciate it.”
Hanford got off to a shaky start by falling behind 3-0 in the first inning. It was the most runs they allowed in the first inning in any game this season and the first time they allowed a run in the opening frame in seven games.
The Bullpups responded with a momentum-stealing third inning. After first baseman Ashlyn Vidana singled to lead off, Juarez hit her record-breaking single, which dropped and then rolled underneath the right fielder’s glove.
The ball continued all the way to the warning track and allowed Vidana and a speedy Juarez to touch all the bases to make it a one-run game.
Shortstop Marissa Cruz continued the inning with a single and catcher Mia Hernandez doubled to left-center field. Stewart then hit her own run-scoring double to left field and gave her team a 4-3 lead.
“I knew I was strong at the beginning when we were doing hitting,” Stewart said. “And I just felt confident and usually when people are on base I’m confident scoring them in.”
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Stewart finished 1-for-2 with two RBIs, one run and two walks. She made an excellent defensive play in the third inning when she tagged a runner trying to advance to third base to complete a 7-5 inning-ending double play.
The Bullpups seemed to be in prime position to tack on to their lead with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning.
Cruz hit what appeared to be a sacrifice fly to right field, but left fielder Mackensie Snyder, who reached on an infield single, was ruled to have left third base early and called out.
Instead of taking a 5-3 lead with two outs and runners on the corners, the inning ended along with a valuable opportunity to extend the lead.
“I think the call on the out on the early leave … I think that really stole our momentum a little bit, but it is what it is,” Fagundes said. “They still played hard, they fought back to the end there. I’m proud of them either way.”
The Vikings (24-5-1, 9-3 CSL) tied the game on an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth and then proceeded to score eight runs and take control of the game in the fifth. Kingsburg hit three consecutive doubles to take a 6-4 lead and had a total of four doubles in the fifth.
“We could say [the rain affected the game], but they played on the same field we did,” Fagundes said. “We just didn’t play our best softball in that inning. Outside of that, it was a good game.”
The fourth double of the inning came with the bases loaded and drove in all three baserunners. The Vikings scored six of their eight runs with two outs and knocked Hanford pitcher Arrysa Danell out of the game.
Danell (16-4) suffered only her fourth loss of the season and pitched 4 2/3 innings allowing 12 runs (11 earned) on 14 hits and two walks. It was her worst outing of her three-year career, as she allowed more earned runs against Kingsburg than in her previous 17 games combined.
Garcia, who was 2-for-4 with a run, finished the game by pitching a scoreless 1 1/3 innings in relief with two strikeouts.
All nine players in the Bullpups’ starting lineup had a hit, but the Vikings had the better firepower on Saturday. They outhit the Bullpups 14-11, with five of those hits going for extra bases, and made contact when it mattered the most.
“They had some timely hitting when they needed it,” Fagundes said.
The 12 runs scored were the most Hanford allowed in any game this season and the first time they allowed double-digit scoring. Their previous high was seven runs to Clovis and Bullard in identical 7-1 losses.
Kingsburg pitcher Mia Estrada (8-0) earned the win after allowing one earned run in four innings of relief. She went 2-for-3 with an RBI and run at the plate. Catcher Marissa Gonzalez was 2-for-4 with a triple and four RBIs and first baseman Brianna Vela received the Most Inspirational Player award for the Vikings after going 2-for-3 with an RBI, run and walk. Five Kingsburg hitters had multi-hit games.
Hanford ends the season 23-7 overall and as the West Yosemite League champions after going 9-1 in league. They defeated No. 7 seed Ridgeview 9-3 in the quarterfinals and No. 6 seed San Luis Obispo 5-0 in the semifinals.
Juarez will be the only graduating senior, which means the majority of the group should return and make another run at both a Central Section and league title.
“Hopefully a lot of them keep that same fire and drive and then we can pick up where we left off and start over again,” Fagundes said.