Aliyah Ricks knows how potent the Merced High softball lineup can be.
With an order that can swing the bats from top to bottom, the Atwater senior pitcher was determined not to help the Bears out.
The same held true for the defense behind her.
Ricks scattered six hits over seven complete innings on Thursday afternoon and -- most importantly -- didn't issue a walk. The Falcon defense turned in a perfect performance behind her and Atwater grabbed sole possession of first place in the Central California Conference with a 1-0 victory on the road.
"The keys for me is not walking anybody and having effective spins," said Ricks who scored the game's only run and struck out six. "Merced is too good of a team to be helping out with extra runners, so I really concentrated on staying in the zone.
"My curve ball is my best pitch, and it was working for me today."
Fantastic as Ricks was, her counterpart virtually matched her pitch for pitch.
Freshman hurler Madilyn Nickles struck out eight and limited the Falcons (5-3-2, 4-0 CCC) to one hit in seven complete innings.
Unfortunately for the Bears (8-4, 3-1 CCC), that lone hit proved to be the only one that mattered.
Ricks got things going with a one-out walk in the top of the third.
With speed aboard, Haley Lawrence slapped a ball just inside the right-field chalk to plate Ricks with a double.
"We kind of came into the season with this underdog role, which we didn't mind, but we never believed we were," Atwater coach Lori Kale said. "It was just the perfect hit in the perfect situation.
"One of the goals was to not help Merced out, and Aliyah met it by not walking anyone. The defense did the rest. For once, we made all the routine plays."
Merced threatened in the second, fourth and seventh innings, but couldn't find a way to push the tying run across, going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.
Megan Kravec made things interesting with her second hit of the game in the seventh. Ricks responded, however, inducing a game-ending ground out to second baseman Brittany Massa.
"(Ricks) pitched great. Both pitchers pitched great," Merced coach Bart McAfee said. "One hit is all we give up, but that's softball sometimes.
"We have to find a way to get more balls in play and score some runs."
Edison 5, Chowchilla 3
Edison 3, Chowchilla 2
FRESNO -- Cassidy Vlot homered and pitched a pair of strong outings, but Chowchilla dropped a doubleheader to Edison.
Merced 7, Golden Valley 2
Balvinder Mann scored a straight-sets victory in No. 3 singles and the Bears swept doubles in a win over GV.
Cesar Nava got a No. 1 singles win for the Cougars.
Atwater 8, Buhach Colony 1
ATWATER -- Emmanuel Avila was almost perfect with a 6-1, 6-0 singles victory in a Falcon rout of the Thunder.
Jesus Lopes provided the Thunder's lone point with a 6-2, 6-3 singles victory.
Kerman 2, Chowchilla 0
Carlos Salazar struck out 13 in a three-hit shutout of Chowchilla.
Frankie Schwartz tossed five solid innings for the Redskins, but got no run support in the loss.
Merced 223, Golden Valley 246
Daniel Col fought through the strong winds to shoot a match-best 40 in a win over GV.
Merced College 3, Sequoias 2
Former Atwater Falcon Gabriella Espinosa delivered a base-clearing walk-off triple as the She-Devils rallied for a win in the bottom of the seventh.
Sarah Ruiz allowed two runs in the first inning, but shut down the Giants the rest of the way to earn the win.
Merced College 9, West Hills 2 (11)
COALINGA -- Carl Jameson pitched three innings of perfect relief and Shota Nagatomi picked up three hits and drove in two in a wild 11th inning for the Blue Devils.
Robbie Dallas kept his hot bat going with two hits and two RBIs as MC pulled even with the Falcons for second place in the CVC.