MANTECA – A bounty of home runs made for an active scoreboard during Wednesday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV softball playoffs, and the Sierra Timberwolves won their ninth consecutive game by defeating Ripon in the quarterfinals.
With its 11-5 victory, No. 2-seed Sierra will play No. 6 Kimball Fridayi in the semifinals. Kimball, which upset No. 3 Liberty Ranch on the road 9-8, was swept by the Timberwolves (16-4) in the Valley Oak League regular season.
Sierra is aiming to claim its third section title in four years, and its fifth since 2011. However, Ripon (15-8) came close to ending Sierra’s run by taking the lead twice by the fourth inning thanks to a pair of two-run home runs.
The blasts were off the pitches of Nebraska-bound Lindsey Walljasper, who would rather forget how she labored through her complete-game victory.
“Hopefully we won’t remember a lot, just clear our minds and go one game at a time from here on out,” said Walljasper, who allowed four earned runs on nine hits while walking three and striking out eight. “It was definitely a little shaky. This isn’t the way we normally play but everybody has their ups and downs.”
Ripon’s Shay Furtado, who signed with San Jose State, opened the scoring off Walljasper in the top of the first inning with her third round-tripper of the season and the fifth of her playoff career. Moments later, Ripon’s Sydney Vernon singled in Bianca Toledo for a stunning 3-0 lead against the defending Division IV section champions.
Sierra coach Vic DeAnda said he was concerned what a two-week layoff would do to his team since it clinched a share of the VOL title on May 2 with a 1-0 win over Oakdale.
“We had two weeks off and it showed, but these kids’ integrity is that they don’t quit,” DeAnda said. “When they jumped on us, I told them, ‘Listen, we have seven innings to play.’ We came back and responded. That’s just the way they’ve been playing all year.”
Sierra answered Ripon’s rally with a four-run bottom half of the first inning as eight hitters faced Ripon freshman pitcher Sydney Thomason. After walks to Mia Guevara and Walljasper, Samantha Lorge singled in Guevara minutes before Callie Crain smashed a pitch to deep left field for an instant 4-3 lead.
“It’s my first home run of the season so I’m pretty happy about that,” Crain said. “I haven’t been getting my deep hitting in, but I finally got it with a home run and a double. So that felt great.”
Ripon reclaimed the lead in the fourth inning, 5-4, with a two-run blast by Thomason, her second of the year.
“It felt so good,” Thomason said. “(The loss) is just the way the events turned, it didn’t work out. I learned we can’t have mistakes on defense and keep on going with our hitting.”
Ripon gave up the lead with a glaring sequence of events in the bottom of the fourth inning. Sierra turned its 5-4 deficit into a 7-4 lead when Walljasper’s single off an infielder’s glove sent the ball into short-centerfield.
Desiree Mejias was waved home from second base, as was Guevara when Walljasper baited Ripon’s infield into the beginning of a rundown between first and second base. The delayed throw to get Guevara out at home was late, and that’s when Walljasper broke for second base. The subsequent throw to get her out was off target and the ball went back into an unattended center field, enabling Walljasper to score.
“That happen sometimes, but just making contact with the ball you never know what’s going to happen,” said Crain.
After Crain scored a run in the fifth for an 8-5 lead, Walljasper hit her 10th home run of the season for a 10-5 lead. Crain’s double plated pinch-runner Eryn Scott for the final run of the game.
Ripon coach Robert Vernon, whose team opened the season with nine wins in which it out-scored its opponents by a 101-8 margin, will lose three seniors.
“I’m proud of the girls for coming in an executing the game plan,” Vernon said. “They didn’t back down at all, so that’s all you can ask for as a coach.
“(Thomason) came in mid-season (to pitch) and started getting more meaningful innings,” he added. “She keeps getting better and better. We’ve got something there for three more years, there’s no doubt.”