It took not one but two tiebreaker games – plus a coin flip – to figure out the Western Athletic Conference’s second and third playoff teams after Los Banos, Pacheco and Central Catholic all finished 7-5 in league and 1-1 against each other.
The three teams converged on Pacheco High in Los Banos on Wednesday, where Los Banos defeated Central Catholic 3-1 in the first game to secure a spot, then Pacheco beat Central 4-3 to leave the Raiders out of the playoffs, while sending the Panthers to their first-ever playoff trip.
“It’s a special thing for these players,” Pacheco coach Charlie Pikas said. “Ari (Barton) is the one senior that’s been with us on varsity for three years, and they finally get to see why we spend our summers out here.”
Following Pacheco’s victory, a coin flip determined that Los Banos is the second seed from the WAC and Pacheco is the third. Ceres won the league with a 12-0 record.
Pacheco beat the Raiders on the strength of former Raider Gia Rodoni’s 16 strikeouts, but Central’s lineup had its moments. Central trailed 3-1 in the sixth inning when Emily Raspo popped up to shallow center field, but the ever-present spring gales in Los Banos sent it back to the infield, where it fell for an infield double. Raspo later scored on an error. Isabel Davis, who reached on that error, then scored on a Danielle Friedrich single to tie the game.
“You know, it was entertaining,” Pikas said. “There was a lot of action, that’s for sure.”
Pacheco broke the tie in the bottom of the seventh when freshman Sammy Jacquez, who missed that popup an inning earlier, hit it right back at Davis with the bases loaded. Davis threw home to force out baserunner Yadira Castillo, but Pikas appealed that catcher Gabby Dias bobbled the ball. The appeal went Pacheco’s way to end the game.
Jacquez said she watched the play on her way to first base.
“I watched it, I was like, “Come on! Move, move, move!’ ” she said. “...This team worked a long way to get here, and it’s enjoyable and exciting. It’s just really fun.”
The day started with a pitcher’s duel between Davis and LB’s Brianna Flores, with no runs scored until Los Banos brought its three runs across in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“We hit the ball well, it was just we hit it right at people,” Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso said. “Then we finally started putting some good swings on it, putting pressure on them, and we got three big runs when we needed it.”
Third baseman Breanna Cascia, who played a big part in a solid Los Banos defensive effort, led off the inning with a double, and Haley Quintana, Angela Rodriguez and Taylor Harris followed with three consecutive RBI singles.
Central, which had a run canceled in the second because the runner left early, put one across in the sixth on a pair of errors and a single.
“We started working as a team. I know if I did mess up, they would have my back in the outfield, so I know if I stumble, they’re there to help,” Cascia said. “It means a lot that we played as a team to get this far.”