HANFORD — With a soft toss from second baseman Lillianna Garcia to first baseman Ashlyn Vidana, Hanford sealed a 5-0 semifinals victory over San Luis Obispo and earned themselves a spot in the CIF Central Section Division II championship game.
“It feels really good because we’ve been working really hard for this,” Hanford first baseman Ashlyn Vidana said. “It’s something we’ve been wanting to do and we were all hoping obviously to succeed, but to be able to say we’re going to the Valley championship is what’s really cool.”
It’s the two-seed Bullpups second trip to the Valley championship in four years. They won the Division III title as the No. 2 seed in 2016. They defeated No. 8 seed Independence 7-3 in the finals.
“For me, personally ... it’s my senior year I’m going to go out with a bang either way, but I think it’s good for these girls coming in to really experience that,” Hanford center fielder Emily Juarez said. “It gives them that confidence in coming back next year. I think it’s going to give them that little push.”
Juarez is the only player left from the championship-winning team in 2016 when she was a freshman. She’ll also have a chance to break the all-time hits record for Hanford after she tied the mark with her 122nd hit on Tuesday.
Juarez’s hit came during a five-run fifth inning for the Bullpups. Just like in the quarterfinals, the Bullpups used another big inning to shut the door on their opponent.
With the semifinals scoreless heading into the bottom of the fifth, designated player Jenna Leavens hit a leadoff single. After a strikeout, Vidana hit a double to the fence and plated the first run of the game.
“I kept fouling off balls and I kept battling and I’m like, ‘I know I just have to hit it,’” Vidana, who finished 2-for-3 with an RBI and run, said. “I kept telling myself I need to hit it and it went and I hit it and it felt good off my bat. It felt really good to be able to get that first run in.”
Hanford courtesy runner Mackensie Snyder took over for Vidana at second base and made the most of her time on base. Snyder stole third base and then went home after an errant throw by the catcher to make it 2-0.
The hits kept coming with right fielder Hannah Costa’s double to left-center field followed by Juarez’s record-tying RBI single to score Costa.
“We went around a few times with the pitcher we started really seeing what kind of pitches she was throwing, but the one thing that I think really brought us back up was the dugout,” Juarez said. “Throughout the whole game we kept getting louder and louder and louder … and I think that was the biggest part of the game. It was just supporting each other realizing we’re here to have fun, we’re here to play the game.”
After shortstop Marissa Cruz and catcher Mia Hernandez successfully reached via fielder’s choice and walk, respectively, to load the bases, left fielder Mia Stewart hit a sacrifice fly to right field.
Cruz scored the fifth run of the inning on a delayed double steal by the Bullpups. Courtesy runner Kristin Bray drew the throw to second and gave enough time for Cruz to score before being picked off.
“It’s what led up to the fifth inning,” Hanford coach Donnie Fagundes said. “We were trying to get the right people on because I really felt we could steal on them the way they were throwing the ball around, but we couldn’t get them on.
“It took the bottom of our order to get somebody on and we just said we’re doing it. Let’s go. We gave the steal signal and it just started it and they were moving around and the flood gates opened.”
The game started out as a pitchers’ duel with both hurlers dominant over the first four innings. The Bullpups and six-seed Tigers had two hits apiece through the first four innings.
Arrysa Danell threw one of her best games of the season with a complete-game shutout allowing two hits. She had three strikeouts, walked none and had only one baserunner reach second base.
Danell faced one above the minimum and retired the side in order six different times, including the final nine batters of the game.
“It was gutsy,” Fagundes said. “She just plays. The thing about her is you can’t tell by her expression if we’re winning or losing or what inning or nothing. She just throws and I think for a pitcher to have that kind of composure, that’s what you got to have.”
Only one ball left the infield during Danell’s time in the circle — a two-out single to right field in the fourth inning. She followed with a strikeout to end the inning.
The first hit was a one-out bunt single by the second batter of the game in the first inning. The baserunner was quickly erased with a 1-4-6 double play after she took too wide of a turn at second base and wasn’t able to get back on the bag before the tag.
“Sometimes I honestly feel that they don’t believe in some of the stuff we’re trying to teach them like [base stealing],” Fagundes said. “It’s no different than the sacrifice bunt situation when we turn around and throw backdoor to second base. We practice that every day … and this is why we do it.”
Baserunning was at its highest level for the Bullpups on Tuesday, as they were 7-for-8 on stolen-base attempts, including the steal of home during the fifth inning.
Hanford will face No. 1 seed Kingsburg (23-5-1, 9-3 CSL) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Division II championship game at Margie Wright Diamond. The game will be the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Vikings defeated No. 4 seed Redwood 3-0 in the semifinals.