NCS softball playoffs: Maria Carrillo grinds out 3-2 victory over Newark Memorial

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Maria Carrillo's Mikaela Francis tags second base to force Newark Memorial's Sydnee Strong out at the top of the seventh inning Wednesday.  (Scott Manchester / For The Press Democrat)

Maria Carrillo’s Mikaela Francis tags second base to force Newark Memorial’s Sydnee Strong out at the top of the seventh inning Wednesday. (Scott Manchester / For The Press Democrat)

Hosting a rare section playoff game, Maria Carrillo made the most of few scoring opportunities with leadoff hitter Brittney Veler slugging the game-winning home run in Wednesday’s victory over Newark Memorial.

Pumas ace Robin Johnson made the 3-2 lead stand up, stranding 11 Cougars, the game-ending out coming on a three-pitch strikeout. Bend-don’t-break defense again was Maria Carrillo’s winning formula.

“We just had to stay solid. We definitely played as a team today and it showed,” said second baseman Veler, whose two-run blast was her fourth on the season.

Getting a home North Coast Section Division 2 playoff game for the first time in five years, Maria Carrillo was prepared for a tough contest. Newark Memorial played like a perennial playoff squad.

“We had all the confidence in the world,” said Johnson, who struck out eight against one base on balls. “I knew our defense would come through.”

Champions of the North Bay League, the Pumas now go on the road to face Clayton Valley on Saturday. Maria Carrillo is seeded sixth and Clayton Valley third in NCS Division 2.

Newark Memorial, a young, athletic squad, was a good test. The Cougars put multiple runners on the base paths in five innings. They played near flawless defense, and outhit the Pumas 11 to 4.

“We’re good at putting pressure on opponents,” said senior leader Megan Bravo. “We played really well. We all did our jobs. We just didn’t get the big hit.”

Leading the Newark Memorial hit parade was Maricela Matos, with a single, double and triple. The shortstop scored the Cougars’ first run after her three-bag blast was followed by a Laurisa Hernandez single in the first inning.

Maria Carrillo took advantage of a walk and hit batter following a Shelby Holzworth single to produce the tying run in the second inning. Rochelle Schulze scampered home on a wild pitch.

Coming off her only one-two-three inning, Johnson and the Pumas would face down scoring threats in each of the final five innings. The right hander struck out Hernandez to strand two runners in the third inning.

The next inning ended with Natalie Oropeza making a sliding catch in center field to leave two more Cougars on the bases. A long running catch by Mariah Gabriel in right field allowed Johnson to strand another pair of Newark Memorial runners in the fifth inning.

With little offense of their own, Maria Carrillo gained a spark from Gabriel’s single leading off the bottom of the fifth. After a pop out on a bunt attempt, the Pumas had a hungry Veler at the plate.

Combining plate discipline with power, Veler is comfortable both working counts to get on base and looking for early fastballs in run scoring situations.

“When I get more and more comfortable in a game I just jump all over pitches,” she said.

After taking two balls, Veler slammed an inside fastball over the center field fence. Maria Carrillo’s biggest hit on the afternoon was the Pumas’ last.

But the win was far from secure. Johnson and the Pumas needed to withstand a determined Cougars comeback effort in the seventh.

A leadoff single by Sydnee Strong and a two-out walk set up Newark Memorial for a run-scoring hit from Regan Rodriguez. But a confident Johnson finished off the Cougars with a strikeout, the third and final pitch a rising fast ball.

Another challenging inning was no problem for the second-year starter.

“I tend to zone out the pressure,” Johnson said. “I felt strong.”

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