NCS softball semifinals: Petaluma earns shot at back-to-back titles

By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

MARTINEZ — Petaluma’s softball team is heading to a second consecutive North Coast Section championship game after grinding out a tense, back-and-forth 3-2 win Tuesday over Alhambra, one of just three teams to beat the Trojans during the regular season. The third-seeded Trojans (24-3) will face No. 5 Concord (23-4) Saturday at San Marin High in Novato, with the time of the game yet to be determined.

In an unusual contest pitting Division 2 defending champion Petaluma against the Division 3 title-holding Bulldogs, the Trojans won by taking advantage of their lone bases-loaded opportunity. No. 3 hitter Allie Corids hit a slow roller off the handle of the bat, arriving safely at first when the Bulldogs’ talented shortstop Kylee Perez rushed a throw that first baseman Nicole Curry couldn’t pick out of the dirt.

Freshman outfielder Katie Bisges, who started the rally with a two-out double, came home to score on the play.

“She definitely jammed me,” Corids said of the pitch from Erin Enke that she squibbed into the dirt on the deciding play. “She (threw) me a good pitch, but I’ll take what I can get.”

Enke, who started the game but swapped positions with right fielder Shannon DeVries in the sixth inning before coming back to the mound to face Corids, kept Petaluma hitters off balance for the first five innings. Enke repeatedly showed the Trojans a nasty breaking ball that crossed home plate in the bottom of the strike zone but hit the dirt before reaching the catcher. The result was a lot of called strikes, furrowed brows and defensive swings at pitches in the dirt by Petaluma.

While Enke was bearing down on the Petaluma bats — the sophomore struck out six in 5 1/3 innings — Petaluma’s Dana Thomsen tamed the Bulldogs. After Alhambra loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, the junior induced a grounder for a force out at home, then struck out the No. 5 and 6 hitters to end the threat.

For the first five innings, Thomsen, who threw a no-hitter in Petaluma’s quarterfinal win over Alameda, was lights out against Alhambra’s No. 3 through No. 9 hitters. But sophomore middle infielders Perez and Hailey Sparacino manufactured scoring threats all afternoon from the top of the lineup.

Perez, who leads her team with 15 home runs, bats leadoff for the Bulldogs because coach Paul Buccellato says other teams often walk her intentionally. Yet she showed off her speed and on-base skills by dropping a bunt for a single in the first inning. For the afternoon, Perez singled twice, scored a run and reached on two walks, one of which was intentional. Perez also made a terrific diving snare of a line drive by Joelle Krist in the bottom of the second, saving a run.

Second baseman Sparacino was just as good, singling twice, walking and driving in Perez with a two-out RBI double in the top of the fifth, the first run of the game.

Thomsen knew coming in Perez and Sparacino would be tough outs.

“Kylee’s a very good player,” Thomsen said. “I knew I had to pitch to (Perez and Sparacino) more on the corners rather than throwing them junk.”

For an inning or so, with both pitchers dealing and the infields playing flawlessly, it appeared the Bulldogs would make that one run hold up, but Nicole Wiecks, who turned 17 Tuesday, drew one of her three walks in the bottom of the sixth before Corids singled. After Wiecks and Corids advanced to second and third on a wild pitch, cleanup hitter Chelsea Martin drove them both in with a single for a brief Petaluma 2-1 lead.

“I was just looking to put the ball in play,” Martin said.

After Martin’s single, right fielder Shannon DeVries, who started against the Trojans the first time they faced the Bulldogs in mid-April, moved in from right field to snuff out the Trojans’ rally.

In the top of the seventh, the bottom of the Bulldogs’ order finally broke through against Thomsen. Jess McIntosh smoked a ground ball for an infield single that Krist knocked down and kept from going to the outfield, and No. 9 hitter Bella Gonsalves drove her in with a double.

With Perez and Sparacino due up next, the Trojans had to get strategic. Perez was walked intentionally and Thomsen pitched Sparacino delicately, with the second baseman earning a walk to load the bases. Then, Thomsen coaxed a popup from cleanup hitter DeVries and Martin, Petaluma’s shortstop, gloved it for the out.

Thanks to Thomsen’s gutsy pitching, the Bulldogs went 0-for-4 with the bases loaded.

“My goal was to not let them score,” Thomsen said. “I want to thank my team for not getting down and making outs when they needed to.”

With Petaluma having won the pregame coin flip to determine which team would bat in the bottom of each inning, the Trojans were primed for the walk-off win once Bisges hit that leadoff double.

After an error and a walk put TJ Watts at second and Wiecks on to load the bases, Martin, who earlier had hit the two-RBI single, had a front-row seat from the on-deck circle when Corids hit that roller off the handle of the bat.

“It was nerve-wracking,” the senior shortstop said.

Alhambra coach Buccellato likes the Trojans’ chances in the NCS finals.

“They were the best team we faced all year,” Buccellato said. “Dana did a heck of a job against us today.”

Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or eric.wittmershaus@pressdemocrat.com.